Child custody disputes can arise in multiple situations, but they typically arise during divorce. The divorcing parents may disagree on who their child or children should live with or how they should be raised. For many parents, our children are the most important focus of our lives, making conflict over child custody arrangements particularly stressful and draining.
Whatever your child custody goals, we understand that determining child custody can be one of the most difficult aspects of a divorce. If you have questions and concerns about Pittsburgh’s custody determination process, Jones Gregg Creehan & Gerace is here to help. Contact us today to schedule your free case evaluation.
Physical Versus Legal Child Custody
There are two types of custody available when parents divorce. Physical custody is the right to have your child live with you. It involves day-to-day care and parenting. For example, when a child lives with one parent, that parent is considered the custodial parent with physical custody rights. The non-custodial parent can be awarded visitation rights to see the child.
Legal custody differs from physical custody and involves the right and obligation to be the decision-maker for the child. A parent with legal custody has the right to make important decisions for the child, such as where the child attends school, medical care, and religious practices. Many child custody cases result in both parents being awarded joint legal custody. However, if one parent is incapable of making sound decisions for the child, that parent may not be awarded legal custody.
When a court awards a parent sole custody, that parent is called the custodial parent, holding the child’s legal and physical rights exclusively. The parent without custody still has a right to maintain a parent-child relationship through visitation rights. However, when visitation rights could jeopardize the child’s safety or well-being, the court may prohibit the non-custodial parent from visiting with the child.
Currently, courts prefer to award joint custody to both parents. Courts understand that children benefit from having relationships with both of their parents in most cases. When parents share joint custody, they share their children’s physical control and decision-making responsibilities. Joint custody is also called shared custody.
Does a Custody Agreement Need to Happen in Court?
No, parents can negotiate and agree to a parenting plan outside of court with the help of their attorneys. Generally, there is no need for parents to appear before a judge if they can agree on what to do, as long as the plan is in the child’s best interest. Many advantages come with negotiating a child custody agreement out of court. Working with a third-party mediator and your attorney can help you work toward negotiating an agreement that benefits everyone involved. The court must order a custody arrangement when parents can’t agree on a custody arrangement after hearing evidence from both parties.
Factors Considered in Pittsburgh Custody Agreement Decisions
Section 5328 of Pennsylvania’s family law statutes sets forth the factors judges must consider when making child custody determinations. Courts cannot prefer one parent over the other, such as a mother over a father, when making custody decisions. Instead, they must consider the facts of the unique case and decide on the best interest of the child or children. The factors commonly considered by courts include the following:
- Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other party
- Any past abuses committed by a party or a member of the party’s household
- The parental duties each parent has performed on behalf of the child
- The child’s need for stability and continuity in their education, community life, and family life
- The availability of extended family to help with childcare
- The child’s relationship with his or her siblings
- The preference of the child, based on his or her maturity and judgment
- Any attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent, except in domestic violence cases when a parent is taking reasonable safety measures to protect a child
- Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, and consistent relationship with a child
- Which parent is more likely to attend to the child’s physical, developmental, emotional, and special needs
- The proximity of the parties’ residences
- The availability of each party to care for the child
- The level of conflict between the parties
- Any history of drug or alcohol abuse by a party or a member of his or her household
- Any other relevant factors that should be considered
Modifying a Child Custody Order in Pittsburgh
Modifying a child custody agreement is possible, but it can be challenging. The parents requesting a modification must show that a substantial change has occurred that justifies the modification. Working with an attorney during divorce can help you achieve a fair agreement. It is more difficult to challenge an agreement that’s already been entered.
Work with a Strategic and Experienced Pittsburgh Child Custody Attorney
The attorneys at Jones Gregg Creehan & Gerace take the time to talk to each of our clients. We will carefully listen to your goals regarding your child’s custody and ensure that you understand what to expect from the process. We have helped parents who have been dealing with the child custody system for years and those who are just beginning to have concerns related to these matters.
Our attorneys know how to gather persuasive evidence and use it meaningfully during the negotiation process. When the parties cannot agree to a child custody arrangement out of court, our trial-ready attorneys are prepared to advocate for clients in court.
Discuss Your Case with a Pittsburgh Child Custody Attorney
The attorneys at Jones Gregg Creehan & Gerace have in-depth knowledge of the procedures and laws related to child custody in Pennsylvania. If you have concerns, we recommend discussing your case with an attorney at the beginning of the process to protect yourself and your rights. Contact Jones Gregg Creehan & Gerace today to schedule your initial consultation.