For a parent, the well being of his or her child is paramount in their lives and, as a result, child custody disputes are among the most challenging legal issues one can face.
There are several types of child custody in Pennsylvania.
- Legal custody refers to the legal right to make major decisions affecting the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decision.
- Physical custody refers to the actual physical possession and control of a child.
- Shared / Joint Custody refers to shared legal and/or physical custody, an arrangement designed to assure the child frequent and continuing contact and access to both parents
Parties may be able to privately fashion an arrangement that suits both parties and the child, and in that situation, child custody disputes remain out of the courts. When an agreement cannot be reached, the courts exist to Order a suitable arrangement. Custody orders may be modified, but this usually occurs only where there is a substantial change in circumstances.
In awarding custody, courts consider numerous factors including, but not limited to:
- morality and character of the parents;
- use and abuse of alcohol or drugs;
- which parent is more likely to allow access for the non-custodial parent;
- past violent or dangerous conduct of either parent;
- household guests including boyfriends and girlfriends.
However, the overarching question will be, “what is in the best interests of the child?”
When in the best interests of the child, reasonable and continuing contact with both parents and shared rights and responsibilities of childrearing is the public policy of the State. Therefore, to promote these goals, Visitation for noncustodial parents is an enforceable right. The amount of visitation and the schedule is determined by a number of factors such as the geographic proximity of the parents and the age of the child.
Parties other than biological parents can seek enforceable rights regarding a child as well. For example, grandparents can seek visitation rights when the parent of a child is deceased, the parents’ marriage is dissolved, or the child has resided with the grandparents for 12 or more months.
If you are facing a current custody dispute or anticipate one in the future, contact Allegheny Attorneys at (412) 426-3321 to protect your rights and the rights of your children.