Custody The resolution of child custody and visitation disputes requires divorcing parents to act rationally in their child’s best interest at a time when they are facing the overwhelming stress of a divorce. Involvement by a family law attorney with knowledge and experience of your state’s child custody laws will help. Advice from Mooney & Associates‘ experienced family law attorneys will help you understand the options available to you in your particular situation and make a plan that will serve the best interest of you and your children. Divorcing parents need to learn the child custody and visitation options which are available to them and the legal standards applied to the difference options. They need to balance their knowledge against an unflinching assessment of their ability to work with the former spouse to make a fully informed decision about their children’s future. Couples face increasing pressure from society and the courts to work together to solve custody issues during a time when they are at their deepest emotional distance. Some divorcing couples are ultimately able to agree on custody and visitation issues without the need for a court order. Knowledgeable advice and representation for an experienced family law attorney often makes the difference in reaching a fair, mutually satisfactory agreement. When an agreement cannot be reached, success at trial may depend on the early involvement of a family law attorney with an established track record in contested custody matters. Legally, the set of parental responsibilities regarding day-to-day care of a child, as well as the rights to direct the child’s activities and make decisions regarding the child’s upbringing have been split into two separate categories: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody means the actual living arrangement of the child and the rights and responsibility associated with daily childcare. Legal custody means the responsibility associated with the raising of the child and includes such questions as religious upbringing, school choice, medical care and issues such as discipline, driving age and whether or not to attend special activities. There are numerous options regarding the division of these rights and responsibilities between divorcing parents. Some options are available as part of an agreement and some options may be required by court order. Sole physical custody is awarded or agreed upon when one parent has the exclusive, primary right to have the child live with him or her. That parent is then known as the custodial parent and the other parent is known as the non-custodial parent. Sole physical and legal custody generally only occurs when there is a history of abuse or neglect. In such instances the non-custodial parent may be limited to restricted or supervised visitation. Currently, the most common type of sole custody is sole physical custody with joint legal custody including the grant of generous visitation for the non-custodial parent. In Joint Custody, parents share responsibility for decision making and for physical control and custody of the children. Couples may agree upon joint custody, or the court may order it. Couples with joint physical custody usually share legal custody, but joint legal custody does not necessarily mean joint physical custody. Split Custody, a less popular resolution, is when each parent takes custody of a different child. Another option, which is less popular, is called “nesting” or “bird nesting”. In this option, the children remain in the pre-divorce home and the parents rotate residence in the home. Shared Parenting is a relatively new concept in child custody where shared parenting standards replace previously used custody and visitation rules using a plan of cooperative parenting as a framework. Shared parenting involves both legal and physical custody. Children spend equal time with both parents, though no pre-set formula as to how parents share the responsibility is in place. Parents jointly plan budgets for the children’s expenses and pay equitable shares for those expenses. Questions of custody usually arise when a divorcing couple with children decide to separate. While some couples immediately reach an agreement for either short or long term situations, others require court intervention for immediate and final decisions. Custody is addressed throughout the divorce process in the following procedures: Temporary Hearing, Custody Evaluations, and Custody Trials. Once custody has been established, either through an agreement or court order, parents may request to modify the established agreement if they cannot agree to a change. In order to support a request for a change, the parent seeking the modification must show a substantial change in circumstances. Some states will only consider a request for modification within two years of the original custody determination unless there is a showing that the child is endangered by the original custody arrangement. States that follow the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act only consider requests for modifications if they occur in the state where the child has an established custody order or an established residence in order to prevent “forum shopping” and custody motivated child removals. Court modification requests motivated by the relocation of one parent require special consideration. The resolution of child custody and visitation disputes requires each divorcing parent to act rationally and in their child’s best interest at a time when they are facing the overwhelming stress of a divorce and separation from their children. Involvement by a competent family law attorney with knowledge and experience in Pennsylvania child custody laws will ease the stress at this time immeasurably. Advice from the experienced family law attorneys of Mooney & Associates, Attorneys at Law, will help you understand the options available to you in your particular situation and outline a plan that will serve your best interest as well as the best interest of your children.