Child Custody

There are few family matters as important and far reaching as the establishment of a fair custodial arrangement to allow for the proper development of a child’s life. Parents are encouraged to reach a private agreement that best suits the schedules and needs of their family. When parents are unable to agree, Courts must become involved to issue an order that assures that the best interests of a child are served.

Before a decision is made, legal custody requires both parents to discuss the important issues in a child’s life, such as education, medical and dental care and religion. Shared legal custody recognizes this need in making joint decisions, and allows both parents direct access to the same information from the pertinent providers to enable a parent to make a well-informed decision. It is often recommended in Lehigh and Northampton Counties that legal custody be shared, but sometimes sole legal custody may be required to best protect a child.

Physical custody is really about where a child is 24/7, primarily concerning overnights, holidays and vacations. The schedules of each parent and each child must be taken into account to arrive at a schedule that best serves a child. Extracurricular activities and special needs are important, too.

The law compels a Court to consider 16 factors when establishing whether a primary or shared physical custodial arrangement best serves the interests of a child. An agreement is highly desirable from a Court’s perspective, and the Court has established a series of conferences, mediations or attempts to settle this serious matter wherever possible. However, where a trial may be inevitable Attorney Bernstein will explain the factors and how a Court customarily interprets the factors when making its decision. The evidentiary requirements will be reviewed in detail should the matter go to trial. Most of the time in contested custody cases is spent in preparation for a trial when no option exists to settle the matter.

In our increasingly mobile society, relocation by a parent often requires parental consent or judicial intervention to assure that a child maintains a meaningful relationship with a parent living at a distance from the other parent. There are additional factors and rules that require the relocating parent to notify the other parent of this intention, thus giving the other parent an opportunity to object and be heard on this issue. Attorney Bernstein will discuss in detail the legal and evidentiary requirements when an amicable resolution is not possible.