Pennsylvania Parenting Plans and Custody Agreements
This article covers custody agreements in Pennsylvania and gives guidelines on creating an effective parenting plan for Pennsylvania courts.
You can write up your own Pennsylvania parenting plan (on your own or with the other parent) or you can work with an attorney or legal professional and have them create it. If you don't want to pay the high cost of an attorney, and want to easily make your own agreement, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.
When creating a custody agreement (parenting plan) in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, becoming familiar with the family law of the state is imperative.
These laws are contained in Title 23 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.
When you use the law as a tool as you create your parenting plan, it will not only prepare you for what to expect in court and educate you on what to include in court documents, it will also enable you to use the insight of the court and the legislation in order to create a parenting plan that is more likely to be accepted by the court.
Having your parenting plan approved by the court is the best way to ensure you will have a positive outcome in your child custody case.
The chapter of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statures regarding custody begins with a declaration of the policy of Pennsylvania about custody that you must follow as your make your agreement (23 Pa.C.S. § 53).
The policy is that the state views it is in the best interest of the child to:
- Have reasonable and continuing contact with both parents after a separation or dissolution of marriage
- Have the parents share the rights and responsibilities of child rearing after a separation or dissolution of marriage
The court considers the best interests, health, and well-being of the child to be paramount when making decisions regarding the custody of the child.
The court considers all relevant factors when determining what the best interests of the child are, including, but not limited to (23 Pa.C.S. § 5303):
- Which parent is more likely to allow the child to have frequent, continuing contact with the other parent.
- If a parent has displayed a reluctance to allow the other parent access to the child, this will be viewed unfavorably, unless abuse, neglect, or any other harmful actions of the non-custodial parent are factors.
- Any past or present violent or otherwise harmful conduct of a parent, such as abuse or neglect.
- Any criminal convictions of a parent that suggest the parent is of immoral character and poses a danger to the child or other parent, such as criminal homicide, kidnapping, various sexual offenses, including rape and prostitution, and endangering the welfare of a child.
- An evaluation of any criminal charges against the other parent that are of a nature that gives an indication that the parent may endanger the parent or child, such as stalking, terroristic threats, arson, contempt for violation of a court order, etc.
- A parent convicted of the murder of the other parent will not be awarded custody or visitation of their child, unless the child is of sufficient age to express consent. No child should be subjected to living with his or her parent's murderer.
As you create your parenting plan, you need to know some of the definitions of the terms used by the courts to describe custody (found in 23 Pa.C.S. § 5302).
These definitions can help you think about what type of custody arrangements you'll set up in your agreement:
- Legal custody: The legal right to make major decisions affecting the best interest of a minor child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious, and education decisions.
- Physical custody: The actual physical possession and control of a child.
- Shared custody: An agreement and order where legal or physical custody is shared in such a way as to assure the child will have frequent and continuing contact with both parents.
- Visitation: The right to visit a child. It does not include the right to remove a child from the custodial parent's control.
- Partial custody: The right to take possession of a child away from the custodial parent for a certain period of time.
The court may award sole custody (to one parent) if it is determined to be in the best interest of the child (23 Pa.C.S. § 5303.d).
The court may order joint custody (shared by both parents) if it is in the best interest of the child and one or both parties request it, both parties agree to it, or at the discretion of the court (23 Pa.C.S. § 5304).
Joint custody does not necessarily you must divide the child's time between each other equally, but is does mean that both of you should be able to spend a significant amount of time with your child and play active roles in your child's life.
When creating your Pennsylvania parenting plan, analyzing your family dynamic and the situation, before the separation and since the separation, can be helpful.
If one of you has always been the primary caretaker, and has done a good job at it, maintaining that continuity might make sense for your child.
The current situation can play a critical role in creating the parenting plan, as well. If one parent has opted to remain in the family home, and your child is accustomed to his or her home, school, and community, it could be beneficial for your child to remain in that stable environment.
If both parents have relocated, which parent's home is closer to your child's school, or which parent is closer to a better school, even if it is different, might be something to consider.
You should evaluate your own employment schedules as you create the child visitation schedule.
Above all else, evaluating the needs of your child is the best way to determine the particulars of a parenting plan.
The parenting plan must detail how you intend on implementing the custody order and may include any provisions or stipulations you are able to agree upon, including, but not limited to:
- A designation as to the custody of the child and the child's primary residence
- A child visitation schedule that specifies when the child will spend time with each parent, including holiday and vacation times
- A statement defining the decision making responsibilities and authority of each parent
- A method for dispute resolution, with returning to court as a last resort
- Provisions for modifying the parenting plan in the future, as needed
- Any other stipulations or provisions the parents wish to include
The court prefers that you create your own parenting plan with the other parent and if you are unable to do so, you may be ordered to attend mediation so you can try to reach an agreement.
If you have exhausted all methods and are still unable to reach an agreement, the court will develop a plan for you.
The top twenty cities in Pennsylvania (by population, US Census Bureau, 2008) are: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Reading, Bethlehem, Scranton, Lancaster, Levittown, Harrisburg, Altoona, Penn Hills, Wilkes-Barre, York, State College, Chester, Norristown, Bethel Park, Radnor Township, Ross Township.