Developing a custody agreement is a high-priority issue for most divorcing parents. Fortunately, parents don't have to get courts involved to make a custody plan. Pennsylvania courts encourage parents to fashion their own custody solutions before turning to the legal system for help. Studies show that children adjust better to divorce when parents work together and have low conflict in reaching a custody agreement. Parents should only resort to the courts if they cannot agree to the terms. Here's what you need to know.
Physical vs. Legal Custody
In developing a custody agreement, parents must consider multiple factors. First, they must recognize two types of custody: physical and legal. Physical custody describes when one or both parents are responsible for providing a home for the child and caring for their day-to-day needs. Legal custody describes when one or both parents have the right to make important life decisions for the child, including regarding their education, religion, or medical decisions.
Many parents decide that sharing physical and legal custody–joint custody–is the best solution for their family. Joint custody means the child will live with each parent 50 percent of the time and that the parents will make collective decisions regarding the child's life. In other cases, the parents may decide that both parents will have legal custody, but one parent will have physical custody while the other has generous visiting rights. In rare cases, a parent may have sole physical and legal custody. Sole custody usually only occurs if one parent does not have the mental or physical capacity to care for the child or a court order forbids it.
Vacations, Holidays, and Special Occasions
A parenting agreement should cover more than custody–it should also establish how parents will handle sharing their child during vacations, holidays, and special occasions. Common approaches include:
- alternating major holidays, where the child spends the holiday with one parent every alternate year
- splitting the holiday in half, where the child spends part of the holiday with each parent
- fixing holidays, where the child always spends a specific holiday with one parent.
If you do not have an amicable relationship with your ex, the agreement should also discuss how to handle parental appearances at important events in their child's life, such as recitals, graduations, and sports events.
Make the Agreement Legally Binding
After you have reached an agreement with your co-parent, you should submit the plan to the Pennsylvania family court. A judge will review it to ensure it serves the best interest of the child and if so, will sign it. Once signed off by the court, the plan is enforceable by law. Neither parent can break its terms without risking serious legal trouble.
Before submitting the agreement to the court, having an experienced family lawyer review it can ensure that the plan complies with Pennsylvania custody laws and doesn't contain any other red flags.
Consult an Experienced Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
If you are creating a co-parenting plan with your ex-spouse, speak to an experienced family lawyer about how to best draft a plan that complies with Pennsylvania law and works for your family. Contact the skilled Pennsylvania family law attorney Joseph D. Lento. He has helped numerous parents develop satisfactory custody plans. He wants to help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.