In the absence of a court order, determining child custody can be challenging and delicate. While a court order is often the ideal resolution, Pennsylvania has general guidelines for ambiguous circumstances.
Understanding these default principles becomes important in such situations.
Physical custody: Primary caretaker may have custody
About 20.2% of Pennsylvania residents are younger than 18 years. Many of these children have parents who do not live together.
In Pennsylvania, when there is no court order, the default principle is often in favor of the primary caretaker. This means that the parent who has been the child’s primary caregiver, providing daily care, support and supervision, likely gets more physical custody than the other parent. However, if the other parent wants joint custody, the courts usually encourage this type of involvement.
Legal custody: Shared decision-making
While physical custody is about where the child lives, legal custody involves decision-making about the child’s upbringing. In the absence of a court order, Pennsylvania often leans towards shared legal custody. This implies that both parents have the right to make significant decisions affecting the child’s life, such as those related to education, health care and religious upbringing.
Factors the court considers
When no court order exists, the court may consider various factors to determine custody arrangements in the best interest of the child. These factors may include each parent’s ability to provide a stable environment, the child’s relationship with each parent and the physical and mental health of each parent. The court also considers children’s preferences, especially as they grow older.
Mediation and co-parenting
Mediation provides a platform for parents to discuss and negotiate custody arrangements with the assistance of a neutral third party. Additionally, fostering a healthy co-parenting relationship is important for the well-being of the child.
Effective communication and cooperation between parents contribute to a stable and supportive environment, whether there is a court order or not. Getting a custody arrangement formalized as soon as possible is usually in everyone’s best interest.