Three Things You Need to Know Before Your Child Custody Case
Child custody is often one of the most contentious aspects of divorce. Attending your first custody hearing can be intimidating if you are unfamiliar with the process and are not sure what to expect. When you come to the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., for legal representation, we will guide you through every step of the process. Call us at (866) 290-9292 (toll-free) today to get an experienced Montgomery County divorce lawyer by your side.
There Are Two Main Types of Child Custody
Legal custody gives you the right to make all critical decisions in your child’s life, including where the child lives, how he or she is brought up, where the child obtains healthcare, and what school the child attends. In Pennsylvania, joint legal custody (or “shared custody”) is encouraged whenever possible. Judges will only grant sole legal custody if the other parent is not significantly involved in the child’s life, lives far away, or is abusive or neglectful.
Physical custody pertains to the child’s living arrangements. There are three possible types of physical child custody:
- Sole physical custody: The parent granted sole custody provides a permanent home for the child. The non-custodial parent usually has visitation, often every other weekend and one weeknight. If you have sole physical custody of your child, the other parent may still share legal custody with you.
- Primary physical custody: Both parents share physical custody, but one of them is the primary or custodial parent. This parent will have the child more than half the time and may be responsible for more of the child’s physical care.
- Shared physical custody: In this case, the child splits his or her time between two permanent homes. This arrangement is only effective when the parents can get along with each other and when they live close enough not to affect the child’s school or activities.
The Number One Priority of the Court Is the Best Interests of the Child
In awarding child custody, a family court will base its decision on what is in the best interests of the child. If you cannot present a suitable parenting agreement, the court will issue its own controlling order to settle the matter of custody. The judge considers several factors that may affect the child’s well-being and physical, mental, and emotional development, including:
- Family relationships
- Mental and physical condition of each of the parents
- Financial situation of each parent
- Custody arrangements for siblings
- Willingness of parents to cooperate with each other, and with the court
- Wishes of the child
Family courts are not allowed to consider gender in determining custody. State laws include a gender-neutrality provision to overcome gender biases and help ensure each parent has an equal right to custody of the child. When both parents are found to be competent caregivers, a presumption for joint custody exists.
Grandparents Can Seek Custody and Visitation in Pennsylvania
Under state law, grandparents have automatic standing to bring a petition for legal and physical custody of a grandchild. If the court considers that it is in the best interests of the child to not be in the custody of either parent, the court may award legal and physical child custody to the grandparent. This applies in cases in which the grandparent:
- Has genuine care and concern for the child;
- Began a relationship with the child with the consent of a parent or pursuant to an order of the court; and
- Has assumed the role and responsibilities of the child’s parent for 12 months or longer.
Grandparents may also petition for visitation and partial custody. If the child has resided with a grandparent for 12 months or more and is removed from the grandparent’s home by the parents, the grandparent may petition the court for reasonable partial custody, visitation rights, or both. However, grandparent custody and visitation may not interfere with the parent-child relationship.
Get Legal Help for Seeking Child Custody
Laws surrounding child custody are complex in Pennsylvania. It is in your best interest to be represented by an experienced Montgomery County child custody attorney. At the Law Offices of Sheryl R. Rentz, P.C., we have years of experience successfully handling child custody cases. Contact us today for effective legal representation in divorce and child custody matters.