Pennsylvania child custody statutes focus on the best interest of the child. Custody rights are often triggered when one party moves out of the shared home. However, it is advisable to have a child custody agreement or court order in place prior to a separation. This can be accomplished in a number of ways whether it is through litigation, negotiation or collaboration.
If you anticipate a separation, it is important to speak with a family law or divorce attorney in order to determine what rights you have with respect to your child. Specifically, two aspects of custody should be established – legal custody and physical custody.
What is legal custody?
Legal custody is the right to make important decisions for your child such as where they attend school, what religion they will practice and decisions related to their health and medication. This is normally shared equally between parents except in extreme circumstances.
What is physical custody?
Physical custody refers to the schedule of time the parent has with the child. There are many variations of physical child custody and the focus should be on what schedule is in the best interest of the child.
For instance, one parent may have primary physical custody and the other parent may have partial physical custody. Another variation is equally shared physical custody. Child custody interplays with child support as well. It will be important to share with your attorney the current custody schedule so that the number of overnights is factored into the child support calculation.
It is important to note that child custody is always modifiable. Because the focus is on the best interest and needs of the child, it is logical that those needs may change over time. As a child gets older, it may be wise to revisit your child custody schedule and make modifications.
In addition, the area of child custody is constantly evolving. Most recently there have been changes in the law with regard to relocation of a parent and the child and in reporting certain crimes within the household. Requirements vary by county and local rules should be given close consideration. It is important to choose a child custody attorney who is familiar with local practice. Attorneys at Astor Weiss practice in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery and Philadelphia counties.
If you are contemplating a separation or feel that the needs of your child have changed, consult with a qualified family law or divorce attorney to determine your child custody rights. Astor Weiss Kaplan & Mandel LLP has an experienced family law department available to assist you with child custody matters. Call today at (215) 790-0100.