When you’re going through a divorce in Pennsylvania, there are a number of difficult decisions you and your former spouse must make, such as potential alimony payments and the division of marital property and assets. If you have children together, you’ll need to find a child custody arrangement that works well for all parties involved – including your kids.
The National Association of School Psychologists recommends that parents do their best to work out this arrangement by sitting down and determining what is in the best interests of their children. It’s important to try to shield children from conflict between you and your former spouse. If you’re able to reach a custody agreement through amicable means, you may file an order of custody with your local state court to finalize the terms.
However, sometimes couples going through divorce struggle with reaching an agreement when it comes to the custody and visitation of their children. In these situations, one party should file a complaint for custody or partial custody with a Pennsylvania state court. When this is done, the parents – or occasionally grandparents or other relatives – usually must attend a four-hour education seminar to help them better communicate and serve as co-parents.
The parents might also be ordered to attend mediation, a form of alternative dispute resolution in which a mediator helps both parties reach a sound agreement. If the parties cannot agree on a custody arrangement after mediation, they will attend a court hearing. This gives judges the ability to examine evidence to determine what is in the best interests of the children involved and make a ruling based on this information.
How Pennsylvania courts look at child custody
Generally, a judge will seek to facilitate a joint custody arrangement if at all possible. Most judges operate with the belief that a child should have a significant relationship with both parents. However, when courts examine evidence related to the fitness of a child’s parents in a custody battle, they consider a number of factors.
First, judges strive to set up an arrangement that’s in the best interest of the child, which can be difficult to do. Depending on their ages, this may involve interviews with kids to determine what they desire in terms of custody. Judges do not base their rulings on these interviews alone, but they could be a contributing factor.
Courts also examine both of the parents’ actions and the potential living situations of the children. When parents have a history of behaviors that could negatively impact a child, such as substance abuse, violence and arrests, they could have a difficult time obtaining custody arrangements that favor them.
Additionally, judges often seek to maintain the status quo if it is working, so if the children have been in a situation for a period of time in which they are flourishing and receiving love, care and attention, the court likely won’t wish to interrupt that. The same is true for maintaining housing arrangements in which siblings can stay together.
It is important to note that courts do not typically consider parents’ incomes beyond ensuring that they can meet a child’s basic needs. Further, courts no longer operate under the basis that kids should be with their mother most of the time, and instead do not factor in gender when reaching their decisions.
Custody battles can be stressful for both parents and children. If you are in the process of a divorce and would like to negotiate a sound custody arrangement, contact an experienced family law attorney in Reading, Pennsylvania.