One of the greatest issues – if not the greatest – in any divorce case involving children, is child custody. Custody, parental rights, and visitation rights are serious questions parents must answer during the dissolution of marriage. If parents cannot agree on child custody, the courts will do so for them. Child custody disputes can tear a family apart or lead to a brighter future for all. The more you know about this issue, the better off you’ll be.
Commonly asked questions and answers about child custody in Pennsylvania
1. Do Mothers Automatically Get Custody?
No. In the past, the courts were more inclined to automatically give primary custody of children to the mother. Today, the courts will rule in favor of whatever is in the best interests of the child. This may be to live primarily with the mother, the father, or equal visitation rights. The courts will consider a wide range of factors to rule on custody. They will look at the child’s needs physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Custody frequently goes to both parents in “joint custody” agreements. Actions the parents take, such as sustaining stable and nurturing relationships with children, can affect custody decisions.
2. If I Move Away, Does My Spouse Get Custody?
Sometimes, couples can’t stand to be under the same roof prior to or during a divorce. This can result in one spouse moving out of the home. While this is a normal reaction to irreconcilable differences, it can affect a judge’s custody decision. It is unwise to leave children behind in the hopes of having physical custody later. This can create the impression of a flight risk or an unsuitable choice for physical custody. The parent who stays gives the opposite impression. The parent who leaves the home would also have to uproot children for custody at a different house later – a decision the courts might not believe is in a child’s best interest.
3. Should My Spouse and I Go Through Mediation?
Mediation is often a positive choice for parents struggling to come to custody agreements. It is not the same as a trial, in which the judge will consider both parents and then make a decision. Mediation allows both parties to speak their cases in front of a neutral third-party to help settle disputes. Mediators cannot force the parties to abide by their opinions. Mediation can help you and your spouse come to agreements about custody and visitation, avoiding a trial process in which these decisions will be out of your control.
4. Can I Do Anything to Improve My Chances?
If you’re going through the custody process and you and your spouse cannot come to an agreement, the judges will make the decision. At this point, the judge will look at your past history as a parent and what you’re doing now to accommodate your child. There are things you can do to improve your chances of sole or joint custody. Encourage contact between your child and your spouse. Be flexible and compromising when appropriate. Perform duties on your child’s behalf as much as possible. Seek help for any drug or alcohol issues. Overall, the judge will be looking for a safe, stable environment for your child. Create this environment to improve your odds of custody. Speak with an attorney for advice about your specific situation.