Whenever two parents split, whether their marriage is ending or they never married and just want to go separate ways, one of the biggest issues they face is how to work out details related to the children. Some may have preconceived notions about how Pennsylvania courts handle such matters and fear that the relationships they cherish with their children will suffer.
It does not have to be that way, but ensuring that you get visitation and custody provisions that fit your desires does require work. By consulting an experienced attorney, you can be confident that critical questions will be explored and that the resulting plan protects all the parties' rights.
For those who may be approaching this subject for the first time, what follows is a brief review of Pennsylvania child custody laws.
To begin with, the state follows the foundational language as laid out in the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. This is a measure adopted by most states and the District of Columbia. Acknowledging that we are a very mobile society, the law's intent is to reduce instances of parental kidnapping and encourage uniformity in enforcement and jurisdiction.
From there, the law expects family law judges to focus custody decisions on what they believe will be in the best interests of the child. To that end, a child's preferences might be considered, but the wishes of the parents carry weight, too. Joint custody is allowed and the law also recognizes grandparent visitation rights.
Elements that might factor into a judge's ultimate custody order include:
- Whether one parent will be more likely to foster contact between a child and the other parent
- The ability of each parent to meet the physical, emotional and developmental needs of the child
- The stability of each parent and whether any history of chemical dependency or abuse exists
- How relationships with other siblings might be affected
- Whether either parent has a criminal record
As you can see, the process can be complicated. Very often, the best way to reduce the uncertainties is for the parents to come up with a plan through negotiation. Then, they can present the plan to the court, highlighting how it best serves the interests of the children.