In Pittsburgh and throughout the country, most family court judges agree that children are better able to cope with divorce when they’re able to maintain active relationships with both parents. Sometimes, however, the court may determine that this is not in the children’s best interests. Joint child custody involves a set of parents either equally sharing custody or an arrangement where one parent is the primary custodian and the other has visitation privileges.
If a judge believes a joint custody arrangement would place children at risk or simply not be the best option for them, he or she can grant sole custody to one parent instead. There are two types of custody: physical and legal. A parent may have sole custody for one or both.
Basic differences between joint custody and sole child custody
With joint (or shared) child custody, parents share custody privileges and take turns having the kids live with them. If they share legal, as well as physical, custody, they must discuss and approve all major decisions regarding the children’s lives. This includes topics like health, education, religion, finances and more. In a sole physical and legal custody situation, one parent lives with the children full-time and does not have to seek the other parent’s approval for decisions.
Reasons a Pennsylvania judge might order sole child custody over joint custody include domestic violence or parental substance abuse. It could also be something more benign, such as parents living a great distance apart (as in separate states or cities). It is possible for a set of parents to agree to one type of child custody at the onset of their divorce but request a change later if circumstances merit a modification of the court order.
Seeking child custody modification
In either case, once a Pennsylvania family court judge has issued a child custody order, both parents must adhere to the terms of agreement. Unless a parent files a petition requesting modification, and the court grants the petition, the existing order remains in effect. Even if both parents agree to a change, they may not implement a change without the court’s approval.
If you believe modification of a child custody order would benefit your children, you can file a petition. Be prepared to show just cause. This means the court will want you to have a legitimate reason for seeking modification. Such reasons might include relocation due to employment, evidence that your ex is placing your kids at risk or similar issues.