The attorneys at BOK Law & Mediation Services are skilled in all areas of Divorce, Custody and Support. We work diligently to educate clients on an effective plan to help families move forward.
Whether married or not, we understand that one of the most emotional aspects in a separation involves your children’s futures.
Under Pennsylvania law, there are two types of custody: (1) legal custody and (2) physical custody. Legal custody is the ability to make decisions regarding the well-being of the child, including medical, educational and religious decisions. This is generally shared between the parents, such that each parent has equal rights in decision-making for the child. In limited circumstances, one parent can be given sole legal custody, either by agreement of the parties or by Order of Court. Physical custody is the time which the children spend with each parent and in Pennsylvania, it is defined by the amount of overnights a party exercises in a given period.
In either instance, both legal and physical custody need to be defined in a final Custody Order, whether that is reached by an agreement or determined by the courts. Should the parties engage in litigation, the standard that the court employs when deciding custody matters is what is in the “best interests” of the child or children involved. The court makes this determination by analyzing the 16 custody factors set forth in the Pennsylvania statute.
In the context of litigation, the court may employ numerous different professionals to interact with the parties and children, in order to assist the court in making a determination in the children’s best interests. This can include a court-appointed psychologist, a Guardian Ad Litem (“GAL”), or a Best Interest Attorney. A psychologist and a GAL would remain neutral and impartial witnesses for the court, however, a Best Interest Attorney would be assigned to represent the children’s interests.
In certain instances, grandparents and other third parties may have standing to request a specific custody arrangement or specific rights to the children. However, a third party must first establish certain requirements, including their relationship with the children, whether for physical custody, legal custody, or both. Once standing has been established for the grandparent or third party, the court will again employ the best interests of the children standard and analyze three other factors, in addition to the 16 custody factors discussed in the parental rights section above.
In matters of child custody, we have a comprehensive understanding of Pennsylvania law, and will arm you with the information you need to make important decisions that are in your children’s best interests.