There are two types of custody in Pennsylvania that parents seek: Legal Custody and Physical Custody. Legal custody is the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including but not limited to medical, religious and educational decisions. A party with sole legal custody has the sole right to make these decisions, where parents with shared legal custody each equally possess this right. Physical custody is where a parent has actual physical possession and control of the child. There are 5 types of physical custody a party may have:
- Sole: The right of one individual to exclusive physical custody of the child
- Shared: The right of more than one individual to assume physical custody of the child, each having significant periods of physical custodial time with the child
- Primary: The right to assume physical custody of the child for the majority of the time
- Partial: The right to assume physical custody for the child for less than a majority of the time
- Supervised: Custodial time during which an agency or an adult designated by the court or agreed upon by the parties monitors the interaction between the child and the individual with those rights.
With this in mind, a parent seeking custody must then go through the custody process. Each county in Pennsylvania differs in its procedure, but there are two phases common to each county. These can be thought of as the Conciliation Phase and the Litigation Phase.
During the conciliation phase, parents in a custody action are expected to, in good faith, attempt to reach an amicable custody schedule without the court imposing one. For example, in Allegheny County, parents are expected to attend an educational seminar through the Generations Program, and attend a mediation session without any attorneys. If that fails, then the parents, with their attorneys, conciliate with a Domestic Relations Officer – who is not a judge – to attempt to reach an agreement. In Allegheny, if that fails, then it moves on to the next phase.
In other counties in Southwestern Pennsylvania, such as Westmoreland County, the officer issues a proposed custody order, which either party has then 20 days to praecipe for another conciliation, this time in front of a judge, to attempt to reach an agreement. Should any attempt to reach an agreement fail, then the parties move into the Litigation Phase.
In the Litigation Phase, the court hears testimony and receives evidence from both parties in a hearing or a custody trial. The hearing officer or judge overseeing the proceeding then weights all testimony and evidence in light of the 16 Custody Factors in Pennsylvania. These factors are listed here. Parents need to know these factors and how they might affect the case. Overall, the court assesses these factors to determine a custody arrangement “in the best interests of the child.” Custody Orders issued by judges, unless on an interim basis, are usually final orders.
Finally, no custody case is every really “over.” There is always an option to file a Petition to Modify Custody. This requires 1) the custody order to be modified, and 2) a change in circumstances that warrants a modification. Some circumstances may include a change in work schedule for the custodial party, the well-reasoned preference of the child, or if the parties agree to a new custody schedule or provision. At this stage, out Pittsburgh Custody Attorneys and our experience in Washington County, Westmoreland County, Beaver County, Indiana County and all the surrounding counties is invaluable.
If you are at the beginning stages of custody, or if you are deep in the litigation phase, it is always best to have an experienced Pittsburgh Custody Lawyer in your corner. At Joe Pometto Law, we understand what’s at stake in custody proceedings. We are prepared to fight for your child, and your rights as a parent. THERE IS NO GOOD REASON FOR YOU TO FACE THESE ISSUES ALONE. GO FOR JOE – CONTACT OUR PITTSBURGH CUSTODY LAWYERS NOW AT (412) 593-4529.