Child Custody in Lawrence County

There's no doubt about it: child custody is one of the most stressful aspects of divorce. As a parent, you want what's best for your child, and coming up with an agreement that meets all those expectations isn't easy—especially when you and your child's other parent don't agree.

Child custody deals with the parental rights associated with caring for a child and making decisions on their behalf. In Lawrence County, these matters are often associated with divorce; however, they're also relevant to non-married co-parents raising a child together. A child custody order outlines which parent is responsible for what and when and ensures each parent is equally responsible for the health and well-being of their child.

At The LLF Law Firm, we understand that resolving these disputes isn't easy. For more questions about child custody in Lawrence County, PA, we want to hear from you. Call the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team today at (888) 535-3686 or contact us online, and together, we can find an arrangement that meets your family's unique needs.

What Is Child Custody?

Child custody encompasses all the rights, responsibilities, and obligations associated with parental rights. This includes a parent's right to raise their child and live under the same roof, as well as their right to determine how their child will be raised.

Parental rights and child custody are governed by family law (which also includes divorce, adoption, and child support). In the United States, family law matters are handled by the state and processed by the county court wherever you reside. The courthouse in Lawrence County, PA, is at 430 Court Street, New Castle, PA 16101-3503.

Child custody is often associated with divorce; however, it's also relevant to unmarried parents raising a child together.

What Is a Custody Order?

In Pennsylvania, custody rights are divided into two categories (legal and physical) and must be governed by a custody order whenever but a child custody order whenever parents are no longer living under the same roof.

Lawrence County courts do not take child custody decisions lightly. In Pennsylvania, all cases involving a minor are determined according to the child's best interest. During a custody dispute, these powers are broken down into two categories (legal and physical) and divided between parents as either joint or sole custodians. Here's a closer look.

Legal Custody

This branch of child custody deals with parental authority. It includes your right to decide on your child's behalf and how they will be raised.

For example, as a parent, you have the right to make decisions regarding your child's:

  • Education.
  • Extracurricular activities.
  • Mental and physical health.
  • Surgeries and other long-term treatments.
  • Social and cultural exposure.
  • Religious observance.

As you can see, a parent's legal authority extends over both large-scale decisions (like surgery) and minor, everyday choices (such as trying out for a sports team).

Physical Custody

The second branch of child custody is physical. This branch addresses a parent's right to spend time with their child and live with them under the same roof. When parents are married, this right is shared equally and interchangeably by parents since they all live in the same household. However, once parents split up, this time must be divided.

Due to outside obligations (such as school, work, and extracurricular activities), dividing a child's physical time equally between parents is usually tricky. As a result, one parent generally ends up with more time than the other—if just by a little bit.

No one knows your child's needs better than you. This is why Lawrence County co-parents are encouraged to work out these decisions between themselves whenever possible. So long as your agreement meets specific state requirements, most judges are happy to pass off on a parenting time arrangement drafted by the parents themselves.

If you are unable (or unwilling) to cooperate with one another, then a Lawrence County family judge will make the schedule for you.

Joint vs. Sole Custody

Legal and physical custody are the two categories of parental rights that make up child custody powers. However, you've probably also heard about "joint" and "sole" custody.

Joint and sole custody are not types of custody and have nothing to do with the parental rights themselves. Instead, they represent two kinds of custody division—or, in other words, two ways your judge can divide legal and physical custody between you and your child's other parent. During a custody dispute, both branches are handled separately and can be granted to both parents in joint custody or to one parentin sole custody.

Here's a closer look at how this division can play out.

Dividing Legal Custody

Barring any extenuating circumstances (such as child abuse or neglect), Pennsylvania judges will usually grant legal custody powers to both parents equally.

As joint legal custodians, each parent's opinion and desires about their child carry the same weight. While the custodial parent is free to make minor, day-to-day decisions about their child's life (such as saying yes to a playdate), both parents must be on board with all decisions that require legal parental consent.

Parental rights are a big deal, and the decision to remove this authority isn't something Lawrence County judges take lightly. If your legal authority has been unfairly restricted or removed, it's best to speak with a qualified family law attorney about your options.

Dividing Physical Custody

Unlike legal custody—which does not require parents to share the same physical space as their child in order to exercise—physical custody actually does require that in-person time. As a result, physical custody can be much more difficult to divide equally.

In Lawrence County, a child's physical time is usually divided in one of the following five ways:

  1. Sole Physical Custody. One parent has full physical custody, and the other receives no time, including visitation. This arrangement is quite extreme and involves completely stripping one parent of their rights. As a result, it isn't used very often.
  2. Primary Physical Custody. A child lives primarily with one parent while having some (or ample) visitation with the other
  3. Shared Physical Custody. A child spends the same amount of time with each parent and has a home at each house. This scenario is ideal for involved parents, but coordinating can sometimes be challenging.
  4. Partial Physical custody. A child lives with both parents, but the split isn't equal. Here, both parents have custodial rights and enjoy living under the same roof as their child, but the division is not entirely balanced. This unequal living arrangement is one of Pennsylvania's most common ways to divide physical custody.
  5. Supervised Physical Custody. In this situation, neither parent has primary physical custody. While one or both may still have visitation rights, these visits must be supervised by an outside third party. This typically happens in the wake of child abuse or neglect, when CPS must remove a child from their home.

Due to the many demands on a family's busy schedule, physical custody is usually pretty challenging to divide equally between households. As a result, one parent usually gets more time than the other—even if only by a small amount.

As always, parents who can communicate and compromise effectively have a lot of flexibility in choosing a parenting time arrangement that suits their needs the best.

Pennsylvania Family Law and the Best Interest of the Child Standard

As co-parents, it's not always easy to agree. If you cannot reach your own agreement, a Lawrence County judge will be assigned to assess your situation and establish a schedule that will meet your family's needs. This schedule will be outlined in a child custody order and filed with the court.

In Pennsylvania, all cases that involve a minor are made according to the best interest of the child. This means that your child's long-term health and well-being will be the driving force behind each custody decision your judge makes. And they'll do that by examining your family's unique situation.

Some of the factors for consideration include:

  • Which parent is more likely to help facilitate contact between their child and their child's other parent.
  • How likely one parent is to turn their child against the other.
  • Any history of abuse or neglect.
  • The role each parent currently plays in their child's life.
  • The stability of each household.
  • The support system each parent has.
  • Whether there are siblings and what those relationships are like.
  • The child's preference (depending on age and maturity).
  • Each parent's relationship with their child, including their current level of parental care.
  • How close both parents live to one another.
  • The ability each parent has to arrange proper child care.
  • The relationship between co-parents and whether they can communicate amicably.
  • Any history of drug or alcohol abuse.
  • The mental and physical condition of anyone else living in the house.

This is not a complete list, and judges are free to consider any other factors they think might be relevant when making physical custody decisions.

How to File for Child Custody in Lawrence County

To file for child custody in Lawrence County, you'll need to follow these steps:

  1. Meet the residency requirements. You must have lived in Lawrence County for at least six months before filing for child custody.
  2. Fill out the paperwork. Download and complete the Lawrence County child custody paperwork.
  3. Get your paperwork notarized. Paperwork is only complete if it has been signed before a licensed notary.
  4. Make copies of your paperwork. The Lawrence County clerk will need three copies of your paperwork (two for filing and one for service). Having one more for your personal files is also a good idea.
  5. File paperwork. Once your paperwork is complete, bring your notarized documents to the county courthouse for filing.
  6. Pay the filing fee. When you file your paperwork, you must also pay a filing fee. In Lawrence County, the filing fee for child custody is $168.75. If you cannot afford to pay, you can apply for a fee waiver.
  7. Execute proper service. When you file a lawsuit, you must inform the other party that you've opened a case. This must be done via Pennsylvania's rules for proper service.

Family law is incredibly complex and nuanced. Without proper representation, it's too easy to accidentally give up important parental rights. These mistakes can be incredibly difficult—if not impossible—to reverse. Therefore, we strongly recommend discussing your situation with a family law attorney before making child custody decisions.

Enforcing and Modifying Child Custody in Lawrence County

If your child's other parent isn't abiding by your child custody order, then communicating with them is the best place to start. Despite a court's best efforts, custody orders are not always as straightforward as we'd like them. Often, enforcement issues are nothing more than a simple misunderstanding that can quickly be resolved with communication.

If talking doesn't resolve your problems, it's best to speak to a family law attorney—especially if your co-parent is willfully ignoring one of their responsibilities. Sometimes, these conflicts can be resolved through mediation. However, in extreme situations, you may need to file a motion to enforce with the court.

Pennsylvania judges do not take child custody infractions lightly. If they determine that you have willfully violated your order, they will hold you in contempt of court. The consequences for this infraction include steep fines, probation, and imprisonment for up to six months. If the infraction involves failing to pay child support, the court can also garnish your wages, put a lien on your property, and revoke your driver's license and passport until the amount is paid.

If a legitimate reason prevents you from upholding your responsibilities, it's critical to speak to an attorney as soon as possible. In some cases, it may be possible to modify your custody order. However, these terms are not retroactive, so you mustn't wait.

Talk to a Lawrence County Family Attorney About Your Child Custody Dispute

Child custody can be a stressful, time-consuming process—one that very few people are ever completely satisfied with. These decisions will have a considerable impact on your life and your child's, which is why it's so important to have an attorney fighting for your rights.

For questions about child custody in Lawrence County, PA, we want to hear from you. Call the LLF Law Firm Team today at (888) 535-3686 or contact us online, and let our experienced family law attorneys help find the best child custody arrangement for your family.

Contact a skilled Family Law Team Today!

The LLF Law Firm has unparalleled experience practicing Family Law in Pennsylvania. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Our Family Law Team will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.