6 Things to Know About Child Custody and Visitation Law in Pennsylvania

Posted on November 26th, 2021

Divorce is stressful enough, but add in a battle over child custody, and it can be one of the worst times of anyone’s life. When you’re fighting for your right to see your child, through primary custody or visitation, it’s easy to get emotional and not see things clearly.

You can end up walking into court unprepared, ignorant of Pennsylvania child custody laws, and unable to protect your custody rights. This makes it all the more important to not only have an experienced attorney by your side but also to know the ins and outs of child custody and visitation law.

When talking about your ability to be in your child’s life, take everything you can into consideration. Don’t let yourself be unprepared, learn everything you can about PA custody and child visitation laws, and consult with an attorney.

But right now, we can walk you through everything you need to know about Pennsylvania custody laws to start.

Everything You Need to Know About Child Custody and Visitation Law

Judges consider and closely weigh many factors when determining child custody for a divorcing family in Pennsylvania. You need to understand how these factors, and the child custody laws pertaining to them, work if you are a parent filing for divorce.

#1. Pennsylvania Custody Laws in 2023: Understand How Child Custody Is Awarded

In most cases, parents do agree on who should have primary physical custody, or in other words, who will be the custodial parent. More often than not, it’s not a battle to decide who has spent more time with the child and is best suited to caring for the child’s daily needs.

But sometimes they don’t agree on who should be the custodial parent or have legal custody. When this happens, the court will look at several different factors and Pennsylvania custody laws to decide which parent is best suited for child custody. These include:

  • Which parent is physically capable of caring for their child? If one parent has physical or mental disabilities, works significantly more hours than the other, or is not willing, they may not be considered able to care for the child.
  • Whether there is a history of abuse. No court wants to award child custody to a parent with a history of abuse against the child or the other parent, in some instances. There are cases where abuse against the other parent, but a lack of abuse against the child, doesn’t factor into custody proceedings.
  • What is the relationship between each parent and the child? The child cannot choose which parent they want to live with until they are 18. But as per Pennsylvania custody laws, they can tell the judge which one they would prefer and why with both parents’ attorneys present but not the parents. The judge takes this testimony into consideration to decide which parent the child is closest to, but also to see if parental alienation has occurred.
  • Where both parents live or plan to live. If one parent plans to move away and uproot the child while the other doesn’t, this can play a factor in the proceedings. It’s considered better for the child by the court to not uproot their life as much as possible.

#2. PA Child Custody Laws: Know the Different Types of Custody in Pennsylvania

There are several different ways in which child custody is categorized in Pennsylvania. There are the overarching types of custody, called physical and legal custody. Physical custody, as mentioned before, considers which parent will physically care for the child. According to PA child custody laws, legal custody considers how much legal authority each parent has over the child. This can include decisions on the child’s schooling, religious upbringing, academic tutoring, psychological counseling, and non-emergency medical decisions.

These two types of custody are not mutually exclusive but are independent. Every custody case has one type of physical custody attributed to it and one type of legal custody. If there is one combination that you believe is best for you and your family, pursue it.

All types of physical custody include:

  • Joint Custody – Commonly known as “shared custody,” this is where children split their time evenly between parents and their residencies.
  • Bird’s Nest Custody – If the parents alternate residencies and the child stays in the same home. Similar to joint custody.
  • Sole Custody – The children reside with one parent the majority of the time, with the other parent being awarded visitation rights or no contact at all.

In keeping with Pennsylvania custody laws 2023, legal custody includes:

  • Joint Custody – When you are married, you have joint legal custody of your children and make decisions regarding the child’s future with equal authority. This type of custody reflects that.
  • Sole Custody – Only one parent is allowed to make important life decisions regarding raising the child.

#3. PA Child Custody Laws: Understand What a Custody Order Is

When the child custody and visitation deliberation is over, the judge will make a final decision with a custody order(s). Pennsylvania custody laws allow the judge to use multiple custody orders to decide aspects of a child custody case as they proceed.

A custody order is a written order that details the physical and legal custody of the child based on the cases both parents provided. It is governed by PA child custody laws. This is what you will refer to when configuring your life around the court’s decisions for your child.

#4. What Custody Order Modifications Are Possible

PA child custody laws allow custody order modifications, wherein you can petition the court for a change in the custody order. The changes can include modifications to your custody status, visitation agreement, and child support payments.

To keep people from petitioning the court simply because they don’t like the outcome of the original custody order, there must be a reason for the change. These reasons usually pertain to a change in circumstances that have left one or both parents more or less fit to care for the child. As per Pennsylvania custody laws, this can also include a change by one parent that would leave the other parent less able to care for the child.

Examples of these changes include:

  • One parent moving away because of a new job or remarriage
  • Change in income due to a raise, decrease, loss of job, remarriage, or inheritance
  • Extended illness or injury
  • Conditions, such as alcohol or drug abuse, make it a dangerous environment for children
  • A change in the child’s educational or medical needs

#5. Understand How Child Support Works

This is an important aspect of Pennsylvania custody laws and child visitation laws. Child support is the money the non-custodial parent pays the custodial parent to properly care for the child. This is meant to be used for their food, housing, clothing, and activities. Any extra money one parent agrees to pay the other cannot be substituted for child support without clear agreement from the other parent. Even then, there is little that can be done in the moment to create a legal proof of this agreement.

How much someone pays in child support depends on several factors:

  • The number of children from the marriage
  • The current and potential income of both parents
  • Cost of daycare
  • Child support obligations either or both parents may have from previous relationships
  • The medical needs of the child
  • The educational needs of the child

Contact Kalinoski Law Offices for Support

If you’re in the middle of a fight to be in your child’s life and find yourself feeling unprepared with regard to custody and child visitation laws, contact Kalinoski Law Offices. Our firm is experienced in fighting for what’s best for you and your family. Whether it’s to get the child custody or the child visitation you need, our firm provides the legal representation you can count on.

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Craig Kalinoski
Craig Kalinoski

Craig P. Kalinoski is a respected attorney serving clients in Scranton, Pennsylvania. With a focus on Family Law, Criminal Defense, and Civil Rights, he has established himself as a top-rated legal professional. Recognized as a Rising Star and admired by peers, Craig's commitment to excellence sets him apart in the legal field.


We fight for the rights of our clients in a wide spectrum of practice areas, ranging from criminal defense to family law and personal injury.

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