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Decision-making and co-parenting in Pennsylvania

On Behalf of | Jun 26, 2023 | Custody

When working out a child custody plan, parents often develop elaborate schedules that cover who will get the kids on what dates, who will pick them up from school or drive them to events, who will spend holidays with them and many more details.

These are all important matters, but parenting isn’t just a matter of logistics. It also involves making important decisions about children’s upbringing. These can include decisions about schooling, health and, for some families, religion. Parents have rights when it comes to making decisions about these matters, just as they have rights to visit with their children. This type of decision-making can fall under child custody.

Shared legal custody

Pennsylvania law distinguishes between physical custody and legal custody. Physical custody refers to a parent’s right to visit with and live with their child. Legal custody refers to decision-making rights.

When Pennsylvania courts make decisions about child custody matters, they decide on the basis of what they deem to be in the best interests of the child. They presume that it is in the child’s best interests to have continued close contact with both parents. With this in mind, they generally presume that the best arrangement will be some form of shared physical custody.

Likewise, courts generally accept that the best arrangement also has some form of shared legal custody: Both parents should have a say in how their children are raised, even if they don’t live with them all the time.

When developing their own child custody agreement, parents should also take legal custody into account. This means they should consider issues such as:

  • Education: What type of school should the child attend? Where is the school located? Which parent will the school contact if it has a question? If the school has uniforms, which parent will purchase the uniforms? How will the parents divide occasional educational costs, such as field trip fees? What about extra-curricular activities? Parents should also consider how to divide the costs of higher education when their children get older.
  • Health care: Parents should decide how they’re going to pay for their children’s health insurance, and any emergency or non-emergency medical costs.
  • Religion: Will the child be raised with religion? If so, the plan should account for any religious rules about attendance at services, religious holidays, diet or clothing.
  • General matters: Generally, the parent who has physical custody of the child at the time has the authority to make decisions about day-to-day matters. However, a co-parenting plan can also call for that parent to contact the other for any decisions that touch on more overarching subjects.

Resolving disputes

Even the most thorough child custody agreement cannot cover every situation. All parents know that parenting does not always go according to plan.

A child custody agreement can specify a way to resolve disputes between the parents. However, some disputes may require professional help in order to reach resolution.