General Articles

Understanding Child Custody Law – A Guide for Parents

The legal authority to make significant choices for your children is known as child custody. Legal custody and physical custody are the two components.

The main guiding factor in custody disputes is what is in the child’s best interests. The courts take a lot of other things into account, though.

Physical Custody

Many people understand what the term “child custody” means when they hear it, but not everyone knows how it relates to child custody law Scranton, PA. Regarding physical custody, you may hear terms like “primary residential custody” or even “supervised residential custody.”

The term refers to where the child lives daily and who cares for them. Parents can have joint physical custody, partial physical custody, or sole physical custody of a child.

The children consistently spend time with both parents in a shared physical custody arrangement

Supervised or no visitation can also be ordered if there is evidence of parental abuse or neglect. These orders are often based on what the court believes would be in the child’s best interests. Sole legal custody is another common child custody arrangement. It allows the parent with physical custody to make major decisions for the child, such as where the child will go to school, receive healthcare, and what religion they will be raised in.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is the ability to make important decisions for your child. These could include education, religious upbringing, and medical care.

The court will determine which parent should have sole or joint legal custody. If a judge awards joint legal custody, both parents share major decision-making rights for the child.

Generally, courts will give joint legal custody to parents who can work together well. Sole legal custody may be awarded to one parent when a judge finds the other parent has a history of child abuse, neglect, or drug or alcohol addiction.

A parent with sole physical custody of a child will live with the child in their home more than half of the time, and this person is responsible for all of the day-to-day supervision and care of the child. The parent with primary physical custody may also have visitation rights.

Visitation Rights

A judge can award a noncustodial parent (parent without primary physical custody) reasonable visitation with their child. Depending on the child’s age and other factors, this may involve a few hours one weeknight and overnight visits every other weekend.

Typically, this visitation is supervised by a family member or another person appointed by the court. However, a parent with a history of child abuse or other serious concerns can request that a third party supervise their visits.

The child’s best interest is the standard that courts use to decide custody and visitation cases. This best interests analysis considers a wide range of factors, such as each parent’s lifestyle and stability, the wishes of the child, and other relevant issues.

Financial Support

Financial support is an obligation that a noncustodial parent has to provide for a child’s basic living expenses, such as food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education. It is often a factor in child custody cases, whether the parents are divorced or never married.

The amount a noncustodial parent must pay to the custodial parent may change over time based on the cost of living adjustments and changes in a parent’s income. This is called a modification of the child support order.

A modification of the child support order must be filed in family court. The court will decide if it is appropriate to modify the child support amount and consider all relevant factors.

Suppose the noncustodial parent’s income is changed significantly (for example, they lose their job). In that case, the child support enforcement agency can help them file a petition in family court to request a modification of their child support order. Once the court accepts the change, the support will be adjusted to reflect the new income of the noncustodial parent.