Fighting for custody is likely the most difficult aspect of ending a marriage. The more you understand Pennsylvania’s custody statutes, the more likely you are to get what you want. First, you should understand both types of custody. Legal custody is about decision-making authority. Physical custody is about having your children present and in your home. Second, you need to know that courts make custody decisions based on what is best for the children.
Pennsylvania courts favor parenting plans in which both parents remain actively involved in children’s lives. Judges grant custody, both legal and physical, based on several criteria. Gender is not a factor. If you are facing divorce and want to be sure the courts award you joint custody and fair parenting time, focus on a few key areas.
Children thrive in stable homes, so show the judge that you can provide a secure environment. You can demonstrate dependability through your employment history and reliable income. Living at one address for many years is preferable, with the recent exception of moving out of the marital home. Show that you regularly perform parental duties, and that you get your children to school on time every day. Provide continuity by taking your children to their normal extracurricular activities, and participate as appropriate.
Courts in Pennsylvania will consider which parent is most likely to encourage children to maintain a positive relationship with the other parent. You should allow frequent contact with minimum animosity. Be flexible and cooperative. Communicate constructively with your spouse. When the children are around, avoid arguing. Never badmouth your spouse in front of the children.
Parents are not the only people who matter in children’s lives. Judges are reluctant to break up siblings, including half siblings and stepsiblings. If you have other children who will remain with you, the courts may determine that those siblings are an important and positive part of your children’s lives. Extended family members count, too. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins can be essential to a happy childhood.