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Divorced parents arguing about child custody

Types of Child Custody in Pennsylvania

Shabbick & Associates, PC Nov. 2, 2023

According to the most recent Pew Research Center study, about 23% of U.S. children below 18 years live with one parent and no other adults. During a marital dissolution, parents must create a feasible child custody agreement and parenting to determine each parent's roles, rights, and responsibilities. Essentially, the custody arrangement will make provision for the child's living arrangements, day-to-day care, and who has the legal authority to make important life decisions about the child. 

At Shabbick & Associates, PC, we have the diligence and expertise to advise and guide parents in divorce and child custody-related matters. Our highly-experienced Pennsylvania family law attorneys can inform you about the various types of child custody agreements and assist you through them. We're proud to serve clients across Bethlehem and Palmerton, Pennsylvania, and throughout Northampton, Lehigh, and Carbon counties. 

Legal Framework for Child Custody in Pennsylvania

Child custody and parenting time (visitation schedule) are among the crucial issues that divorcing or separating parents must resolve before their marital dissolution can be finalized. In a contested divorce, the Pennsylvania court will allocate child custody using a legal framework that prioritizes the welfare and best interests of the child. 

The Pennsylvania Child Custody Act

According to Pennsylvania child custody laws, provisions regarding child custody must provide each parent with equal custody rights to their child and be free of any unfavorable or favorable biases toward either party. Hence, when the court finds both of the child's parents to be competent and responsible, the court must tend towards joint custody. 

Key Legal Terms and Definitions

Here are some key custody terms and their definition according to Pennsylvania child custody laws: 

Child: A child is an unemancipated individual below the age of 18 years. 

Custody: Custody defines the amount of time a parent will spend with the child and who has the right to make all major decisions about the child. 

Physical Custody: This is the actual physical possession and control of a child. 

Legal Custody: This is the right to make major decisions concerning the child, including, but not limited to, educational, religious, and medical decisions. 

Sole Custody: This is the right of one parent to exclusive physical and legal custody of the child. 

Joint Custody: This is the right of both parents to have physical and legal custody of the child. 

Child's Best Interests Standard  

According to Pennsylvania law, the child's best interests standard involves various factors that are often considered in a contested custody case to ensure that custody is decided based on what is best for the child's physical, emotional, mental, and developmental well-being. 

Types of Child Custody in Pennsylvania

Custody may be categorized into physical and legal custody. 

Physical Custody 

Physical custody determines the child's living arrangement and daily care. Essentially, the child will live with the parent who has physical custody. Also, the parent with physical custody will be responsible for bathing the child, preparing meals, taking the child to school, and making decisions about the child's day-to-day activities. 

Legal Custody 

Conversely, legal custody determines the parent who has the right and responsibility to make major life decisions affecting the child. The parent who has legal custody will be responsible for making vital decisions about – but not limited to – the child's education, schooling, religious upbringing, extra-curricular activities, dental and health care, and joining the military. 

How Custody Decisions are made in Pennsylvania

To determine custody based on the child's best interests, the Pennsylvania court will consider the following factors: 

  • The child's reasonable wishes, based on the child's judgment and maturity.  

  • The relationship between the child, their sibling, and extended family. 

  • The need for stability and continuity in the child's family life, education, and community life. 

  • The parenting duties performed by each parent on the child's behalf. 

  • The proximity of each party's residence. 

  • Whether one parent is more likely to attend to the child's physical, educational, developmental, emotional, and special needs. 

  • The ability of the parent to collaborate and maintain a loving, nurturing relationship with the child's other parent. 

  • Whether one parent will turn the child against the other parent. 

  • Any history of alcohol or drug abuse of a parent or those in their household. 

  • Any current or past domestic violence, child abuse, neglect, or risk of harm in the household. 

  • Any other factor that is considered relevant by the court. 

A seasoned Pennsylvania child custody attorney can present your case diligently in court and help you achieve the most favorable outcome in your custody case. 

Modifying Custody Orders

However, in order to modify an existing child custody decree, the requesting parent must show that: 

  • There has been a significant change in circumstances, which warrants the modification. 

  • The proposed changes will be in the child's best interests. 

Some examples of changes that may warrant the need to modify a child custody order include: 

  • Relocation 

  • A parent changing jobs or work schedule. 

  • Arrest or conviction 

  • Changes in the child's needs. 

  • Changes in either parent's lifestyle or behavior. 

  • Danger to the child 

  • Death of a parent 

Additionally, the judge will consider the child's best interests and welfare to determine whether to approve or deny the child custody modification request. 

Legal Guidance You Can Trust 

Establishing a child custody order often involves a lot of complex procedures. At Shabbick & Associates, PC, we're dedicated to offering outstanding legal services and guiding clients through the complexities of child custody agreements. Whether you want to establish a child custody arrangement or believe that circumstances have changed and you want to modify the existing order, our attorneys can guide you through the legal procedures involved and help you make well-informed decisions. 

Contact us at Shabbick & Associates, PC, today to schedule a simple case evaluation with seasoned family law attorneys. Our reliable legal team can advocate for your best interests and help you resolve your custody issues amicably and productively. We're proud to serve clients across Bethlehem and Palmerton, Pennsylvania, and throughout Northampton, Lehigh, and Carbon counties.