Child custody is inevitably the most concerning and emotional issue when parents divorce. In virtually all states, including Pennsylvania, the parties must determine whether one parent will have custody of the child or if both parents will share custody. If they cannot agree, the court will step in to make a determination based on the child's best interest.
Here's what you should know about child custody in Pennsylvania and how it compares with other states' custody laws.
Child Custody in Pennsylvania
In Pennsylvania, there are two types of custody: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody is when one or both parents have the right to live with the child and care for them daily. Legal custody is when one or both parents have the right to make major life decisions for the child, including those about the child's education, religious upbringing, and medical and health care.
Parents in Pennsylvania are encouraged to develop their own custody agreements without the court's intervention. The state presumes that parents know what's best for their child and that it's better for a child when parents can cooperate and reach an agreement. However, if the parents cannot reach a decision, the court will develop its own plan after carefully examining the family's situation and assessing the child's best interest. In most cases, the court either grants joint custody to the parents, where parents share equal legal and physical responsibility for the child, or grants sole custody to one parent with a visitation agreement for the other.
There may be changes on the horizon, however: PA House Bill 1397, introduced in 2019, seeks to institute a presumption that shared physical and legal custody and equal parenting time is in the child's best interest. In other words, at the outset of each case, courts must presume that it's best for the children to spend 50 percent of their time with each parent. Only clear and convincing evidence to the contrary would rebut this presumption.
Child Custody Laws in Other States
Pennsylvania custody laws are not significantly different from most other states. Virtually all states encourage parents to come up with their own custody agreements, if possible and use a best interest of the child analysis when parents disagree. Some states, such as Kentucky, Nevada, Maine, and Alaska, have either a statutory or unwritten presumption that a 50-50 shared custody plan is in the child's best interest. Pennsylvania is one of several states, including New York and Michigan, that have an “equal custody” bill pending.
However, parents in most states do not share custody equally. A 2018 Custody X Change study shows that fathers only receive 35 percent of custody time nationwide. A state-by-state analysis shows that some states fall well below this national average. Tennessee and Oklahoma have the lowest percentages of divorced custody time allotted to fathers, ranking 21.8 percent and 22.4 percent each. Pennsylvania ranks at 31 out of 50, with fathers receiving 28.8 percent custody time, significantly below the national average.
Talk to an Experienced Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
If you are a divorcing parent wishing to reach the best custody arrangement possible for your child, you must speak to an experienced family lawyer as soon as possible. Contact the skilled Pennsylvania family law attorney Joseph D. Lento. He has helped numerous parents obtain satisfactory custody results. He wants to help you too. Contact the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 or schedule an appointment online.