There are two types of custody in Pennsylvania: 1) legal custody; and 2) physical custody. Legal custody includes making decisions for children, such as health and medical concerns, religious determinations and educational decisions. Physical custody addresses where and with whom the child will physically spend time.
Legal custody (such as health concerns, religious determinations and educational decisions) can transfer from one place to another fairly easily. The geographic location of the child when with either parent should not have much effect on these areas of custody. Ideally, the parents will communicate and work amicably to include each other in these types of decisions whether by telephone, email or text message.
As far as physical custody, judges will typically encourage both parents to spend time with the child rather than one have more time than another. If the parents are unable to agree on physical custody, a judge will decide the arrangement by considering the best interests of the child. This “best interests” standard includes, but is not limited to, the child’s safety. If one parent is considered dangerous to themselves or anyone else for any number of reasons such as drug concerns, PFA (Protection From Abuse) Orders and prior criminal history or conviction, the judge may award more custody to the other parent. However, it is extremely rare that a parent will be completely excluded from spending time with the child unless the parent chooses not to be involved at all.
If the parents do not reside in the same geographic area, physical custody may need to be altered to fit the situation. Summer breaks, long weekends or times of vacations from work and school can allow for the child to spend time with the person who they do not see regularly. Parents or the court will need to determine how the child will travel from one parent to another. Again, communication between the parents is key in these situations because of the need to address how the child will travel, how the travel cost will be paid and what is the best course of action to minimize any negative impact to the child.
There is a specific law for out-of-state custody situations known as The Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA). The general premise is that the custody arrangement is established in the “home” state but will be upheld and enforced in another state regardless of any differences in the law from one state to another. This act was established to provide some uniformity and assurance that custody orders will be enforced across state lines.
If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss custody agreements or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.