By a Bucks County Child Custody and Divorce Lawyer
Parents who are going through the custody process in a Pennsylvania divorce have many challenges. Undoubtedly one of the biggest challenges they face is how to effectively co-parent and provide a stable environment for their children while going through such a difficult experience. As all parents would agree, it is best to allow parents to determine a physical custody schedule (how and when parents spend time with their children) and exercise legal custody (major parental decisions) for their children as they deem appropriate; however, parents should make every attempt to co-parent as effectively as possible while exercising both forms of custody. Sometimes if parents are unable to co-parent effectively, a Court must step in and decide how parents should raise their children. These helpful tips may help avoid such a situation and foster a better environment in raising children during this difficult process.
Tips for Co-Parenting in Pennsylvania Divorces and Custody Cases
It is essential to remember that every parental decision should be in the best interests of the child. Although sometimes parenting in the best interest of the child may upset the child, effective co-parents strive to instill good values to help their child grow and be successful in the future, not fixate solely on what the child wants.
Effective co-parents will always try to communicate with each other about their child’s needs before acting impulsively and doing what they think is appropriate without consulting the other parent, especially regarding important decisions in a child’s life, such as the school the child attends, activities in which the child participates, and the doctors/specialists the child visits. To avoid any potential problem in co-parenting communication, make sure to place all communication in writing, whether it be email or text message, so that there is no confusion as to what either co-parent is saying.
Keep in mind that before placing any communication in writing, there is always a chance that some day that communication may be read by a Pennsylvania family court judge if the issue of child custody is litigated. Because of this, always make sure that the communication is relevant to the physical custody and legal custody of the child, and be careful to not include any irrelevant communication to the other co-parent, especially communication that includes emotion, frustration, or anger with the other co-parent about the pending custody process.
Early Signs of a Breakdown in Co-Parenting During a Pennsylvania Divorce
An early sign of a breakdown in co-parenting is when communications between co-parents becomes less about child custody and legal custody, and more about the parents’ dislike for each other. When this happens, typically one co-parent may try to put the child in the middle of other issues regarding custody. That parent may start expressing their anger and frustration with the separation to the child, creating an environment that is detrimental to a child’s growth and is certainly not in their best interest.
At time, one co-parent may begin alienating the child from the other co-parent. For example, a co-parent may conveniently forget to tell the other co-parent about the child’s baseball game or dance recital. They may even go as far as purposefully not sharing essential parental information, such as doctor’s appointments and school activities. This type of activity can lead to a complete breakdown in communication between co-parents, making physical custody and legal custody arrangements almost impossible.
Unfortunately, some co-parents may resort to drastic measures, such as purposefully withholding the child from another co-parent’s agreed upon custodial time. If this occurs, try to remain as calm as possible and avoid calling the authorities unless there is a fear of immediate injury to the child.
What to Do If Co-Parenting is Not Working During a Bucks County, Pennsylvania Divorce
If communication between co-parents has broken down so much so that there are no longer any discussions about the child, try to always remember that parenting decisions must be in the best interest of the child and try to avoid irrelevant communication. For example, if a conversation changes from one about child custody and parental decisions to communication about disdain or anger towards the other co-parent, ignore the irrelevant discussions and return the communication to relevant parenting decisions.
If there has been no written communication between co-parents, make a journal and write down instances of poor co-parenting so that a record may be created in the event a Court must step in.
If a parent is not effectively co-parenting so much so that it is having negative effects on the child, the Pennsylvania Fmaily Court can step in and assist. Under Pennsylvania Law, Family Law Courts, including those in Bucks County, PA are required to decide custody based on a specific legal standard, i.e. the best interest of the child. There are 16 factors the court must consider pursuant to Section 5328 of the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code. All 16 factors, which relate to issues of safety, health and mental/emotional development, must be considered. Some of the factors include:
- which party is more likely to encourage contact between the child and the other party,
- which party will maintain a loving and stable environment,
- past or present abuse of the child,
- sibling relationships, if any,
- the child’s preference, given the child’s maturity, so long as the preference is well-reasoned,
- where the parties live in relation to each other, and
- child care/school arrangements.