When filing a custody action, the Court must address legal and physical custody of a minor child. Legal custody refers to the right to participate in major decisions affecting the child, such as education, religious and medical decisions. Physical custody refers to physical possession and control of the child.
Physical custody can be described as being primary, partial, visitation, or shared. Primary custody refers to the party with whom the child resides primarily. Partial physical custody refers to the non custodial parent’s right to exercise periods of custody away from the primary custodial parent. Visitation is the right of the parents to visit with the child at the child’s primary residence or at another location agreed upon by the parties, but does not include the right to remove the child from the primary custodian’s possession and control. Shared physical custody is when the parents alternate physical custody of the child when there is regular and frequent contact with both parents.
In making an Order for custody, partial custody or visitation to either parent, the court shall consider several factors:
- Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party;
- The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party’s household, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child;
- The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child;
- The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life;
- The availability of extended family;
- The child’s sibling relationships;
- The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment;
- The attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent, except in cases of domestic violence where reasonable safety measures are necessary to protect the child from harm;
- Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs;
- Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child;
- The proximity of the residences of the parties;
- Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements;
- The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another. A party’s effort to protect a child from abuse by another party is not evidence of unwillingness or inability to cooperate with that party;
- The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household;
- The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household;
- Any other relevant factor.
If you are proposing to relocate to another area with your minor children, you must comply with the requirements of Section 5337 of the Pennsylvania custody law which includes sending notice of your proposed move to every other individual who has custody rights to the children and providing specific information concerning your relocation. The law may be found at 23 Pa. C.S.A. subsection 5337. If you do not comply with the notice provision or provide the required information, the Court has the ability to consider your failure as an element in the custody or relocation decision.
Cooperative parenting is the parenting style used by families in which conflict is low and the parents can effectively communicate about their children. Those individuals are typically able to discuss their children’s ongoing needs, and are able to agree on most parenting values, are relatively consistent in parenting styles in their separate homes and have few arguments regarding decisions about what is in their children’s best interests. Those children are rarely placed in the middle of their parents’ disputes and any disagreements are often resolved peacefully. This is obviously the preferred method of parenting.
Parallel parenting occurs in households in which there is little to no communication between the parties and each parent has his or her own independent parenting style, independent of what is occurring in the other parent’s household. Each parent tries his or her best to parent the child during the time he or she is with the children. Those parents engaging in parallel parenting often disengage from the other parent so conflicts are avoided. Parallel parenting means the parents do not communicate about minor things regarding their children, they do not bicker over things that historically has lead to conflict. With parallel parenting, you typically see important information exchanged such as those decisions regarding health, welfare and education of the children, however the parents do not discuss specifics about those issues or the other’s parenting style.
It is helpful for parents to understand there is more than one “right way” to parent, and learn to be less rigid and more accepting of your child’s other parent. Rather then trying to change how the other parent does his or her job of parenting, you should do your best job with your own parenting during the time your children are with you, without criticizing what is done by the other parent.