Lancaster County couples who file for divorce face many decisions. When they have minor children, the most important decisions concern custody. How will they share parenting responsibilities? How much time will the child spend with each parent? Working out a custody agreement that is best for the child and fair to both parents is not always easy. Each family situation is unique and there is no magic formula. When parents struggle to reach an agreement on their own, an experienced child custody lawyer can help with simple mediation or, if necessary, aggressive litigation. Contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank if you have concerns about your child custody situation.
Here are five things you should know as you enter the custody process:
1. What is Sole Custody vs. Shared Custody?
In a sole custody arrangement, one parent has exclusive physical and legal custody of the child. The custodial parent typically has far more control over day-to-day parenting and other important decisions in the child’s life. In most cases, the non-custodial parent has some sort of visitation.
In a shared custody arrangement, both parents generally share legal custody of the child and have a role in making important parenting, medical and educational decisions. Although parents may not have equal physical custody, they both have regular, continuous contact and participate in the child’s day-to-day care.
2. Which Parent is Most Likely to Get Sole Custody?
Pennsylvania courts consider a number of factors when determining the custody of a child, all revolving around what is in the best interest of the child. Although children generally benefit from a relationship with both parents, a court may award sole custody if the parents live far apart and one parent has already had primary responsibility for the child’s day-to-day care. A parent may also be awarded sole custody if the child is in danger of physical or emotional abuse from the other parent or if the court deems the other parent unfit due to a history of violence, mental instability, drug and alcohol abuse, or neglect.
3. Who Decides Visitation Schedules?
In Pennsylvania, there are no specific rules regarding temporary custody schedules; however, the non-custodial parent almost always has visitation rights, unless there are safety concerns. Parents who communicate well may design a visitation plan on their own or with the help of an experienced attorney. The court ultimately has the final say after considering the needs of the child and the overall family situation. A judge may consider the parents’ relationship, their proximity to each other and the child’s school, and their work demands when deciding a visitation schedule.
4. How do the Courts Determine Child Support?
Child support is a court-ordered financial contribution that the non-custodial parent typically pays to help with raising a child under 18 or a dependent adult child. Child support is calculated using Pennsylvania’s Child Support Guidelines. The guidelines use mathematical calculations that consider each parent’s monthly income, child-related expenses that each parent pays, the number of children, and the amount of time the child spends with each parent. Divorced couples may deviate from that formula, however. Other factors can come into play that may increase or decrease child support payments. For example, the custodial parent may have additional financial assets or hidden sources of income. Or the non-custodial parent may earn significantly less than the custodial parent. Perhaps a child has exorbitant medical costs that insurance does not cover.
An experienced lawyer can help you prepare for a child support hearing and negotiate a support agreement that is best for the child and fair to both spouses. Contact Going and Plank today.
5. What Happens When We Need to Change Existing Custody Orders?
Change is a part of life, and there are a number of life changes after divorce that may warrant a change to existing custody orders. Such changes might include a parent’s loss of income or relocation, as well as a child’s health concerns or developmental needs. Other considerations include physical or substance abuse, a parent’s failure to honor existing custody orders, or a child’s difficulty adjusting to the current visitation schedule. When these situations arise, parents can try to work out a new schedule on their own or file a petition with the court to modify the custody order.
Each custody situation presents unique challenges. An experienced lawyer can help you navigate the custody process and support you should your former spouse fail to respect child support or custody obligations. Contact the Law Offices of Going and Plank to schedule a consultation.