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How Do the Pennsylvania Courts Divide Legal and Physical Custody?

Bleczinski Kleiman & Klein, LLC Jan. 6, 2022

When the parents of minor children split up, regardless of whether they got married or not, custody disputes are common. Both parents may want to spend liberal amounts of time with their children, and they may also have strong opinions about how they continue to raise their children after the divorce.

Whether you want to negotiate your own parenting plan with your ex or you intend to litigate in the family courts, it is important that you understand how the Pennsylvania family law system handles custody matters.

Parents will have to split both physical and legal custody. Legal custody gives the parent the right to make decisions for their children, while physical custody is what gives parents time with their children. How does a judge divide these two forms of custody between parents?

They Look at The Family Situation and Keep the Focus on The Kids

Judges in Pennsylvania making decisions about custody matters will have to look at numerous factors before entering their final ruling. The circumstances of both parents and the relationships they have with the children will matter.

A parent with a history of severe drug addiction, mental health issues or arrest for domestic violence is less likely to receive fully shared physical custody. Generally, there will need to be evidence corroborating claims of a parent’s misconduct or inability to meet the needs of the child for the courts to take such claims seriously. A judge will try to divide parental rights and responsibilities based on what they think will be best for the children.

You Can Use that Information to Strategize

Going to court to demand your rights as a parent won’t get you very far with a judge in Pennsylvania. However, if you can make a compelling argument that your ex’s behavior recently has not been in the best interests of your children, a judge may reflect that concern in the custody order that they eventually produce.

Presenting yourself as someone who is stable and competent and showing a willingness to work with your ex because it is what is best for your kids will likely put you in a position to get as much legal custody and parenting time as possible. Parents unhappy with an initial custody order may also have the option of requesting a formal modification from the court.

Educating yourself about the rules that govern custody decisions in Pennsylvania can help you push for the best possible outcome in court.