Child Custody

Under Pennsylvania Law, if you have a child, you have a right to custody of that child.  However, it is not always as easy as stating that you want custody.  You must determine what kind of custody and how much custody you want.

What Kind of Custody is Available to You?

There are two different types of custody, legal and physical.   Legal custody means you have a say in certain decisions made for your child.  These decisions may include where you child attends school, how medical treatment is administered, and how your child is raised in religion.  Physical custody means the child comes to your home and you physically take care of the child.

How Much Custody do You Have A Right To?

If you decide that you want physical custody of your child, you must determine how much custody you want.  Your options include “shared/joint” and “primary” custody.

If you have a shared/joint custody arrangement, you will be required to share the physical custody of your child on a close to 50/50 basis with your ex-spouse.  This means the child may live with you for a week and then live with the other parent for a week.  Or, you may take care of your child on Sunday through Wednesday, and your Ex takes the child from Wednesday through Sunday morning.  This options is usually best for parents who have been active in the child’s life and wants to remain in an active role.

Usually “primary” custody complaints arise if one parent has been the primary caregiver throughout the marriage or wants to limit the ex-spouse’s contact with the child.  This situation is mainly seen when there was a stay at home mother.  The mother has been the primary caregiver while the father worked.  Because of the bond between the mother and child, the court is likely to grant primary custody to the mother.  This means the child lives a majority of the time with the mother.  So, mother may have custody of the child Monday night through Friday morning, and the father has custody of the child from Friday night to Monday morning.  Some fathers, who wish to maintain a busy work schedule after the divorce, are ok with the mother maintaining primary custody.  However, there may be some financial consequences to a primary custody arrangements.

How Does Custody Affect Your Support Obligation?

Under Pennsylvania law, if a child is born during the marriage, the married couple is considered the parents.  If you are considered a parent of the child, you have a financial obligation to support that child after a divorce.  This is your Child Support Obligation.  Child support is determined through a number of different factors including your income and your custody arrangement.  If you have a shared custody arrangement, you may have a lower child support obligation.  This is because the child is spending enough time in your care that you are paying to take care of the child.  On the other hand, if you only have the child a couple of days per week, your support obligation may be higher to help the primary custody parent pay for the child’s care.

What if You Have Been Declared Unfit for Custody?

The court does declare that some parents are unfit for custody of the child.  This may be because of an abusive relationship, or this may be due to drug and alcohol abuse during the marriage.  Regardless of the reason, you do have options.  Because you are a parent to the child, Pennsylvania believes that you should be able to continue to build that relationship.  Your primary option is to request custody of your child through supervised visitation or unsupervised visitation.  This will allow you to at least see and interact with the child while you work on getting your life to a place where the court will grant you shared or primary custody.

What if You Want To Modify Custody?

Once the Court has entered an order directing a custody arrangement, you must file a motion to modify that arrangement.  However, you must be able to show a significant change in circumstances.

May You Move Once a Custody Arrangement is Set?

It depends where you want to go.  It is difficult, but not impossible, to move out of state after a divorce.  However, you must receive court approval if your ex-spouse has a right to custody of the child.

What Should You Do?

Divorces are difficult enough.  When you involve a child, the proceedings are even worse.  Often times, the child becomes a bargaining chip.  If you are in this situation, you can use some help.  Give my office a call at 412-209-0657 and ask for me, Matthew Becker.  I will sit down with you and listen to your situation.  Through a no-obligation consultation, I will evaluate your case and explain exactly how I will be able to help.  Whether you are a mother or a father, you have rights.  I am here to protect those rights and help you maintain that relationship with your child.