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I'm getting a divorce. What do I need to know about custody and child support?

Divorce affects the whole family, including the children. Courts must try to determine the best interests of the child when deciding on custodial arrangements. In order to do so, the court will consider all relevant factors impacting the child physically, intellectually, morally, and spiritually.

Custody

There are two types of custody, which the court must determine: physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody is with whom the child will be residing and when. Joint physical custody is an option when both parents equally share the time with the child.

Legal custody is the right to make decisions on behalf of your child regarding his or her medical needs, education, welfare or religion. This is almost always shared between both parents, which means you must consult and reach an agreement with the other parent before making a major decision affecting the child's life. Some examples of legal custody decisions include but are not limited to, which doctor, dentist or child care provider is going to provide care for your child, which school is your child going to attend, what activities are your child going to participate in, and is your child going to be baptized.

Before making a determination on a physical custody schedule, the court must consider, sixteen enumerated factors. Some examples of the factors include, among others:

  1. Whether or not you have the ability to encourage and permit frequent contact between the child and the other parent or party.
  2. Any evidence of prior abuse or involvement of a party with child services.
  3. The need for stability in your child's life.
  4. The child's relationship with siblings.
  5. The well-reasoned preference of the child.
  6. Whether a parent has tried to turn the child against the other parent.
  7. Whether the parties can communicate and if so, on what level.
  8. A parent's history of drug or alcohol abuse, or mental or physical disability affecting the party's ability to care for the child.
  9. Support systems, such as extended family or appropriate child care arrangements.

Visitation is a term that is rarely used in custody courts. Typically even if you are granted minimal time with the children, it is still considered and labeled as your period of physical custody. Visitation typically is used if a party needs to have supervised physical custody periods. This occurs when a parent does not have the ability to care for the child or the child may be in physical danger of harm or severe mental abuse if the child is left alone with the party. Supervision is typically accomplished with a family member of the child, however, on rare occasions a supervision facility can be used for periods of supervised physical custody.

Grandparent's Rights

Pennsylvania provides grandparents with the option to petition for physical and/or legal custody of a grandchild under certain specific situations. Grandparents can seek both partial or primary custody depending on the status of the parents and how much time the grandparents have spent with the children prior to the filing of the complaint. Grandparent's custody rights are often complicated and so it is best to seek the advice of a family law attorney. Our family law department is here to help.

Child Support

Pennsylvania child support is based on each parent's net income. There are very specific rules to determine what constitutes each person's net income. If a person is unemployed he or she may be given an earning capacity or a net income based on the possibility of what he or she could earn if working. If a parent has less than 50% custody of the child, they are obligated to pay support to the other parent. If there is an equally shared custodial arrangement between the parties, the parent who earns more money may be required to pay support; however, the support would be at a discounted rate because of the shared custodial schedule.

Some additional costs are allocated between the parents based on shares of the combined net income of the parties. These include but are not limited to child care, private school, health insurance, medical co-pays and sometimes extra-curricular activities. It is important to note child support is modifiable, if for example, a parties' income changes or the needs of the child. Whether a support order is modifiable depends on the circumstances of the situation at the time a modification is requested.

How We Can Help

Although every case is different, it is important to always show the court you have the best interests of the child in mind. We can help you understand your options and fight for what is best for your child. Contact us today to discuss the unique aspects of your family and your case.



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