In Pennsylvania divorce matters, the husband and wife must not only proceed with obtaining a divorce decree, but before doing so, they must resolve other issues which often include custody of the child or children, the amount of child and/or spousal support, and equitably dividing the marital property. A good lawyer will help their client negotiate an agreement with their soon to be ex-spouse to avoid the costs and delays of court appearances. With regards to custody of the children, when a child custody agreement is reached by mom and dad, that agreement should be in writing, prepared by a lawyer, and signed by both parties. In contemplating a child custody agreement, a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer will counsel the client on some basic aspects ofchild custody laws in PA.
Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody
Under Pennsylvania law, there is a distinct difference between having physical custody over your children and having legal custody. Physical custody is when a parent exercises physical control of the children. Physical custody can be supervised or unsupervised. Physical custody can include days, hours or overnight time with the child.
Legal custody is different. According to child custody laws in PA, legal custody is the right to make important decisions that impact the minor child. These important decisions often include medical care for the child, education, religious upbringing, and certain extracurricular activities. In most situations, the parents share legal custody; however, the physical custody for each parent can vary greatly and the parents should consider what is in the best interests of the child or children.
Physical Custody Schedules
A good custody agreement will establish which parent will have physical custody of the child for each day and for a given time. Things to consider are each parent’s work schedule, whether the children are in school, where the parents are located in relation to each other, do both parents live near the child’s school, and so on. Both parents often want to maximize their time with the children and sometimes it is hard for one or both parents to reduce the amount of time that the child spends with them. This is where an experienced Pennsylvania Divorce lawyer can really help the client focus on the best interests of the child.
Holidays, Vacations, and Special Events
While the majority of the child custody agreement revolves around the day-to-day schedule of your children, it is important to have a separate schedule for holidays, vacations, and special events. While parents typically agree to alternate annual holiday schedules every year, each family is different and parents are able to structure their holiday schedules as they see fit.
Similarly, these agreements should state whether parents will be allowed to take children on extended vacations, and if so, for how many days each year and whether it must be done during their scheduled custody time.
Additional Terms, Guidelines, Responsibilities, and Stipulations
By having a written physical custody schedule, parents can establish physical custody rights which they can rely upon and which can be enforced by the courts, if necessary. An established custody schedule will also add stability to the child’s development and his or her relationship with both parents. If a modification of the written agreement is needed or wanted, then the parents can re-negotiate a modification to the written agreement. Or, if the parents are amicable, they can modify the agreement as necessary as situations arise without necessarily having to modify the written agreement.
The best thing parents can do upon divorce is work together to develop an agreeable child custody agreement that is in their children’s best interest. As shown above, this agreement should be not drafted on a whim and should be done with the help of skilled Pennsylvania divorce lawyers. Your attorney will be able to guide you through the divorce process and ensure that all child custody laws in PA are met and accounted for.
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