Pennsylvania Custody and Visitation Schedules
You can create your own custody and visitation schedule (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 schedule, you can use the Custody X Change software.
Custody X Change is software that creates custody schedules, calendars, and professional parenting plan documents.
Becoming familiar with the family laws of the commonwealth may give you an advantage in your child custody case. Reviewing the law will enable you to know what to expect from the court and what the court expects from you.
The laws pertaining to child custody and visitation in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania can be found in the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, Title 23, Domestic Relations.
The law defines the various types of custody, explains what criteria the court uses to make rulings, and above all else, protects the best interests, health, and well-being of the child.
When you use the law as a tool as you create your child visitation schedule it should help you obtain a successful outcome in your case.
Before starting your child visitation schedule, it is important to be aware of the different types of custody in Pennsylvania. These are defined in the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (23 Pa.C.S. § 5302):
- Legal custody means the legal right to make major decisions in a child's life, such as medical, educational, religious, and other important decisions that have an effect on the child's best interests.
- Partial custody is the right of one parent to take physical possession of the child from the other parent for a period of time.
- Physical custody is the actual physical care and possession of the child.
- Shared custody means that the parents each have legal, physical, or both types of custody, as it pertains to their child, and that the parents are awarded custody of the child in such a way that guarantees the child frequent, continuing contact with and access to both parents.
- Visitation pertains to the right to visit a child and does not indicate a non-custodial parent or other party has the right to remove the child from a custodial parent's care and control.
It is important to realize that although some states, such as Florida, have deemed it is unconstitutional to force a parent to comply with a grandparent visitation order, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania does have the ability to award visitation to grandparents, as long as certain criteria are met (23 Pa.C.S. § 5310-5313).
If the grandparent(s) of your child are petitioning for visitation rights, it may be a good idea to come to court prepared with a visitation schedule, so that if the visitation is awarded, it will be done at your convenience, according to your schedule, instead of having one created for you.
The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania recognizes that the best interests and well-being of the child are important and are the main determinant in child custody cases.
While the court may consider the wishes of the parents, the court may reject a parenting plan or child visitation schedule submitted by the parents if the court finds the plan is not in the best interests of the child (23 Pa.C.S. § 5307).
The court considers all of the relevant factors that involve the child, including which parent is more likely to foster a relationship and allow contact between the child and the other parent, and whether there is any criminal or otherwise violent history of behaviors that will significantly affect the best interests of the child (23 Pa.C.S. § 5303).
Pennsylvania doesn't have a specific checklist to follow in making your schedule, so you have some leeway to make a schedule the fits your child and your situation.
A good custody schedule template to follow is that your schedule should include at least the following:
- A daily or residential schedule that shows where your lives and spends time during the week and on weekends.
- A plan that shows where your child will be during holidays, on vacation, during school-breaks, etc.
- Any extra rules or provisions that will help you practically implement your schedule and make it work.
Some example provisions that can enhance your schedule are:
- Information about transportation
- How you'll handle extra expenses that come up
- How you'll decide on child care
- Information about traveling on vacation with the children
These are little additions to your plan that can help you avoid conflicts and misunderstandings in your schedule. If you make a thorough schedule that benefits your child you will be in a good position to have it legally acknowledged by the court.
As you begin to create the regular residential portion of your child visitation schedule, you may want to start by examining the schedules of each parent and evaluating when each parent is free to spend the most time with the child.
Since the schedule should be written in the best interests of your child, you should keep in mind that it is certainly in the best interests of a child to spend ample time with both parents, as long as the parents are fit.
The residential schedule can be broken down into hours, not just days. If one parent is available to pick the child up after school or from daycare and have the child for a few hours every night while the other parent is still at work, or one parent picks up the child and drives her to school each morning, that may be included in the schedule.
The purpose of a holiday (and special occasions) schedule is to allow your child to have an equitable amount of time with each parent on holidays.
Mother's Day, Father's Day, the child and parents' birthdays, and any other holidays may be included in the holiday schedule.
Creating a comprehensive holiday schedule will eliminate conflict regarding the residential schedule, as the holiday schedule outranks the regular schedule.
Be sure to include the days and times the holiday starts, such as "Thanksgiving" begins at 6 p.m. on Wednesday night and ends at 6 p.m. on Sunday night, or whatever you decide. Many parents rotate the holidays during the year and alternate them each year.
The vacation portion of your child visitation schedule can be an actual schedule or provisions for vacation time. The vacation schedule should permit your child to spend extended amounts of time with each parent during school breaks and the parents' personal vacation times.
Since it can be difficult to predict the exact dates of a vacation, especially so far in advance, provisions can be included in the schedule.
For example, you may stipulate that the child will spend six weeks of summer vacation, half of winter vacation, and all of spring break with a certain parent, etc., and/or that a certain amount of advanced noticed be given to the other parent before a parent will use vacation time to spend time with the child.
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.