When many people talk about custody hearings and parenting plans, the discussion occurs in re: the context of divorce. Almost everyone recognizes that parents who divorce are often mandated to negotiate or litigate some kind of parenting plan, but fewer people understand the Pennsylvania laws that apply to unmarried parents.
Confusion on the topic may lead to parents giving up some of their rights because they don’t understand their options. When parents who are not married to one another decide to separate, they often need to negotiate custody matters in the same way that divorcing parents would. Below, you’ll find an introduction to the rules that apply to the custody arrangements (and parenting plans, in most cases) for unmarried Pennsylvania parents.
There may be an additional step required
Typically, establishing a parenting plan will be a mandatory part of any divorce involving parents with minor children. The courts will expect parents to submit their own plan or abide by a custody order. However, the process doesn’t automatically begin if parents with no legal connection to one another separate. Instead, the parents will need to ask the courts to intervene.
The father of the children may actually need to fill out special paperwork with the mother or request paternity testing to formally establish themselves as a legal parent with rights to time with the children. Once the courts or the right paperwork affirms a father’s paternity, the parents will need to cooperate to share parenting time and authority over their children.
What rules apply to custody hearings?
In theory, parents have the option of creating a plan through mutual consent. Parents can negotiate arrangements that they agree would be good for the family and then have a judge review that arrangement and integrate it into the custody order for the family. However, many parents going through a separation or breakup will struggle to agree on how they should share parenting time and other responsibilities for the children.
If a judge must make those decisions on behalf of the family, their ruling will prioritize the best interests of the children. With rare exceptions, judges will typically strive to keep both parents actively involved with the children. Although 50/50 custody is not always the solution, reasonable access to the children is the standard in most shared custody scenarios.
A parent would need to have a compelling concern for the safety of the children to convince a judge to limit the other parent’s parenting time. Unmarried parents can avoid the messiness of divorce at the end of their relationship, but they will still likely need the support of the family courts to establish a formal custody order.
Understanding the rules that apply to Pennsylvania custody proceedings can benefit those who are preparing for a major shift in their family dynamic. Speaking with an experienced legal professional can help to provide this clarity.