Overview of Custody - Guidelines of Conduct
Authored By: Northwestern Legal Services
Disagreements are normal in any relationship and, from time to time, you will experience differences of opinion with the other parent.
The following guidelines will help you protect your legal interests and decrease the likelihood of harm to your child(ren).
Shared legal custody means that both parents must be involved in major decisions affecting the welfare of their child(ren). Such decision areas may include, but are not limited to, education, medical and dental care, and religious training.
Discussing and agreeing on the day-to-day needs of your child(ren) (e.g., bedtime, discipline, routines, etc.) with the other parent is important to ensure consistency and stability in your child(ren)'s life. For example, if a decision needs to be made regarding a child's participation in an ongoing structured activity (e.g., soccer, football, dance, etc.) and it will interfere with the partial custody schedule or require the participation and cooperation of the other parent, tell the other parent your plans before you commit the child to the activity, and work out any problems then.
Should a non-structured social activity arise for the child (e.g., school dance, slumber party, birthday party, etc.), the parent who will have physical custody of the child decides whether the child can participate during that time. It is then the responsibility of that parent to transport the child to and from the activity.
The method of discipline used with your child(ren) should be consistent in both your home and the home of the other parent. The natural parents are the primary disciplinarians, but when unavailable, you should give a clear message to your child(ren) that a stepparent or other care giver is acting as an "authority figure" and must be respected.
Withholding physical custody is never to be used as a form of punishment for a child. Soliciting the cooperation and support of the other parent and presenting a united effort is more effective in correcting the misbehavior of a child.
Any decision that would permanently or significantly alter a child's physical appearance (e.g., ear piercing, tattoos, haircuts, etc.) must be made jointly with the other parent.
COMMUNICATION AND TELEPHONE ACCESS:
You are entitled to reasonable access to your child(ren) by telephone, text message or email at reasonable times and intervals when they are in the custody of the other parent. The other parent has the same rights when you have the child(ren). You have a duty to promptly return telephone calls placed by the other parent and to see that the child(ren) do the same.
Unless restricted by court order, communication regarding the child will be directly between you and the other parent and not through third parties or the child. You should not expect the child to deliver money or messages from you to the other parent. Never place your child(ren) in the middle of a parental dispute.
Custody experts agree that any communication between you and the other parent should focus on scheduling changes or matters directly affecting the best interest of your child(ren) and should not be a means of harassment.
Conversations with your child(ren) should be child-oriented, optimistic and positive. You must refrain from the following "bad faith" conduct:
a) Interrogating or quizzing a child about what is going on at the other parent's home.
b) Asking a child to keep secrets from the other parent.
c) Trying to conduct parental business (e.g., support, divorce, marital property issues, etc.) when exchanging the child(ren) for visits.
d) Expressing sadness or grief when your child(ren) go with the other parent.
e) Telling a child, who may want a new toy or want to do something that costs money, to "Ask your father because he does not pay me enough support" or, "Ask your mother because I give her lots of child support and she just wastes the money."
f) Asking a child directly or subtly, "Which of us do you really want to be with?" and thus placing the burden on the child of choosing between parents.
g) Eavesdropping on or interrupting a child's telephone conversations with the other parent.
h) Placing a "call block" on the other parent's phone to prevent telephone access to your child(ren) is never appropriate.
OUT OF TOWN MOVES
Once a court takes jurisdiction of your case and enters a custody order, you cannot move the child from the County without the consent of both parents. If there is no agreement, the moving party must take the appropriate legal steps to obtain the approval of the Court.
You must inform the other parent of any significant illness or injury suffered by a child.
"Significant" means any condition that would require the child to miss school or be taken to a health care provider.
If a medical emergency arises, seek medical treatment and then notify the other parent.
ALTERNATE CHILD CARE:
Each parent will be considered as the first option care giver over any other third party when one parent is unavailable for an extended time. If the other parent is unavailable to care for your child(ren), you can use a third party as care giver at the expense of the parent who has or should have physical custody at that time.
There may come a time when, for one reason or another, the child(ren) may exhibit some level of reluctance about participating in the agreed-upon schedules. Nevertheless, you must try to ensure the child(ren) are ready and available for scheduled time sharing. Encourage them to participate in the agreed-upon schedules and do not allow a child to take control over whether or not they want to visit. In Pennsylvania, there is no age earlier than 18 at which a child can refuse to see the other parent.
If the other parent does not arrive to exercise his or her visitation or partial custody within a reasonable time of the scheduled visit without previously notifying you, you may assume he or she has chosen not to exercise that particular period of visitation or partial custody. The time sharing will resume on the next scheduled visit.
Neither parent nor any other party shall be under the influence of alcohol or drugs prior to or during any period of time with the child.
Each parent, or any other party who may be transporting the child(ren), is expected to use proper seat belts, child seats, and any other safety precautions required by Pennsylvania law.
We have attempted to insure the accuracy of the information in this pamphlet at the time it was created or revised. However, the law does change, sometimes quickly and unexpectedly. Therefore, you should consult an attorney before taking or refraining from any action based on the information in this pamphlet.
Last reviewed: May 2010