If you are a parent who is headed for divorce, you will need to familiarize yourself with Pennsylvania's child custody laws. Ideally, you and your spouse will be able to reach a child custody agreement with the help of your respective attorneys, but if you can't agree on a parenting plan, the court will have to decide for you.
To begin a child custody action, a custody complaint must be filed in the county where your child has lived for at least six months.
Some counties in Pennsylvania require that both parents attend a seminar that outlines the court process and how it's the parents' responsibility to protect their children as their child custody action moves through the court. An older child may be also be required to attend this educational seminar.
Each county in Pennsylvania has established its own rules in regards to child custody cases. We recommend contacting our office to learn about the rules in your county. Many of the counties require parents to attend a mediation session that is conducted by a court-appointed mediator.
If your county does not have a mediation program, or if you don't reach an agreement in mediation, you may have to attend a conciliation conference, which is held by a court employee called a special master or custody master, or by a family law judge.
What if we still haven't reached an agreement?
Let's say that you have gone through mediation and a conciliation conference and you still don't agree on child custody. In that case the court will need to gather more information. To do that, the court may order psychological evaluations for you, your spouse and your children, as well as home studies.
Once the court has all the information it needs, it will hold a trial to decide on the best custody arrangement, one that is in the child's best interests based on a number of factors, such as:
- Any history of abuse
- The child's preference based on their age and maturity
- Which parent will provide a more stable and loving environment
- Each parent's ability to care for the child and arrange age-appropriate childcare
- The child's relationships with their siblings
- Any history of drug or alcohol abuse
- The child's need for stability and continuity in their school, family, and community
To learn more about the different types of child custody, including shared physical custody, partial physical custody, primary physical custody, and sole physical custody, contact Cairns Law Offices!