According to Pennsylvania Law, shared custody is an order awarding legal and/or physical custody of a child to the parents in such a way as to assure frequent and continuing contact between both parents and the child.
In making a custody decision, the court does not presume that either parent is naturally a better parent. Instead, the court looks at all circumstances and decides on a particular arrangement that would be best for the child.
In shared physical custody, a child’s time is divided between each parent’s home. The split is by a schedule that works best for the child. This could be a 50/50 split however circumstances may exist which make it impossible to have a 50/50 split between mom and dad. There are variations in shared physical custody schedules. For example:
- In a situation where there is great distance between where the parents reside, it may best for the child to spend the school year with one parent, and summer vacation with another;
- When the parents reside in different school districts, it may be best for the child to spend weekdays with one parent, and weekends with the other parent;
- When the parents reside in the same school district, it may be best for the child to spend one week with one parent, then the following week with the other parent and continue that rotation;
- If a child is of pre-school age, the parents may alternate with a 2 day, 3 day, 2 day schedule.
The above schedules can be successful if both parents work well together for the benefit of the child. A schedule will also have to be developed that provides for holidays and special occasions. Parents need to be flexible as the child grows older and work together when the schedule needs to be modified.
Sometimes shared physical custody pursuant to a schedule, such as one of those described above, is just not practical and not in the child’s best interests. Examples of those situations are:
- If the child is an infant and breast feeding;
- When one parent works nights;
- If the parents are in different school districts and because of distance a shared physical custody schedule cannot be accommodated.
Every child has different needs. Every situation is different. Every child custody order must be crafted to reflect the unique needs and circumstances of the families.