I represent parents in custody matters in Philadelphia, Chester County, Delaware County, Montgomery County. I have also appeared in other counties in Pennsylvania including Erie and Lycoming Counties. You should beware that the first custody proceeding is rarely before a judge. A Court Master (an attorney who works for the Family Court) holds a conference. If either party desires a request for a hearing with a judge may scheduled following the initial conference. Additionally, hearings before a judge may be requested on an expedited basis if one parent refuses to allow the other parent to see the child. There are also other issues that arise such as relocation requests.
A court in Pennsylvania considers several factors in determining child custody. First and foremost is the determination of what is the best interest of the child. The major factors which constitute the best interest of the child are the child’s preferences (how important this is varies with the age of the child), which parent is more likely to encourage or facilitate a relationship with the child and the child’s other parent, any past or present history of abuse, and criminal convictions. Under Section 5328 of the Domestic Relations Code there are 15 specifically listed factors and a 16th factor which states “Any other relevant factor”.
Physical custody is defined as “the actually physical possession and control of a child.” There are several scenarios that can play out as far as physical custody. First, it can be shared between the parents/parties. Shared, or joint, custody is generally understood to mean equal or 50/50 time. There can also be sole physical custody meaning one parent/party has physical possession of the child all the time. Another form of physical custody is primary physical custody. Primary custody grants the right to have possession of the child the majority of the time. In a situation where one parent/party has primary, the other parent/party would be deemed to have partial physical custody. Partial custody means they have the child for less than a majority of the time. Physical custody can be supervised if needed in which case it would need to be determined who would supervise the custody time be it an agency of the court, one of the parties involved, or a third party. The term “visitation” is used interchangeably with partial custody.
Besides physical custody there is legal custody. Legal custody is defined as “the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions.” As it relates to legal custody, it can either be shared between the parents or other responsible parties meaning they have to consult with one another and agree on the major decisions or one parent/party can have sole legal custody and make any decision on their own.
Our office is dedicated to protecting your rights. I appear regularly in Philadelphia, Chester County, Delaware County, and Montgomery County. I also appear in other counties throughout Pennsylvania. I hope this blog is helpful.