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What should unmarried parents know about child custody?

On Behalf of | Apr 8, 2024 | Child Custody

Parents who didn’t opt to marry each other married and who are no longer romantically involved generally have to go through the child custody clarification process. This helps both sides to set the foundation for raising their children in ways that allow their rights to be protected and their expectations to evolve in informed ways.

The following are good starting points for working through custody matters so that each parent can provide the children with their stability they need and the best possibility of thriving.

Establishing paternity is crucial

Establishing paternity is one of the first things to do when there’s a custody issue with a couple that’s never been married. This can be done on the birth certificate if both parents voluntarily agree on paternity at the time of the child’s birth.

If paternity isn’t established on the birth certificate, it may be necessary to have a DNA test done to establish paternity. If both parents don’t agree to the DNA test, a court order can require one.

Establishing paternity is essential because it legally defines the father’s rights and responsibilities towards the child. This includes custody and visitation rights and the obligation to support the child financially.

Custody rights aren’t automatically granted to mothers

Pennsylvania law doesn’t give preferential treatment based on the parent’s gender. Both parents have equal rights to seek custody of their child. The court’s primary concern is the best interests of the child. The court will consider each parent’s ability to provide a stable and loving environment, the child’s relationship with each parent and any history of abuse or neglect.

Different types of custody

In Pennsylvania, custody is categorized into two main types: physical and legal. These custody types can be sole or shared. Sole custody means one parent maintains all control. Shared custody means both parents decide on the applicable areas together.

Physical custody pertains to where the child lives. Legal custody involves making significant decisions about the child’s life, such as education, religious upbringing and medical care.

Creating a parenting plan

Even if parents agree on the terms of a parenting plan without going to court, it’s beneficial to formalize the agreement. This plan can outline each parent’s custody rights, parenting time schedules and how decisions about the child will be made. Working with a legal representative who’s familiar with these matters can help parents learn about what types of arrangements might be possible and how to get terms formalized.