Question: My girlfriend and I live together in Newtown and have a son. We are going to separate because things are not working out. I am looking for a place near where we live now. We both want the best for our son and know that we both need to be in his life. We are going to make a custody schedule ourselves. We agreed that my son will live with her in our current house, and I will have him 2 days during the week and every other weekend defined as Friday night to Sunday. However, we both will make major decisions for our son, like where he will go to school. Can we agree upon this without filing any paperwork with the Bucks County family court? In legal terms, are we agreeing that we will both have shared or joint custody?
Answer: Yes, you can agree upon a custody arrangement without court intervention or filing paperwork; however, it is probably best that you file the custody agreement with the court. Once the court approves the agreement, it becomes a court order.
While you and your ex may be getting along now, you may not a year from now. When you are not getting along, communication may be difficult, and she may not comply with the agreement you both agreed upon. Because there is no custody agreement filed and approved by the court, you have no legal ground to enforce your agreement. She would not be doing anything wrong because she has as many parental rights as you do without an order. If that happens, your legal recourse would be to file a custody complaint in Bucks County to determine custody. However, if you have a custody order in place and she violates the terms of the Order, you can take the issue to the Court. Having the Order in place and her violating will be viewed as not only a violation against your parental rights but, also a violation against the Court. The violation against the Court will be subject to the contempt powers of the Court which can include up to incarceration, if severe enough.
In legal terms, the arrangement you and your girlfriend agreed upon is that she has primary physical custody, which is when a party spends the majority of the time with the child or more than half of the time, and you have partial custody because you have less than half of the time.
Because you both will decide on major decisions on behalf of your son, then you have shared legal custody. See Bucks County Custody Cases – Different Types of Custody Arrangements which discusses the different types of physical and legal custody.
Although you may not need a court to determine the custody schedule, it is best to consult with a Bucks County custody lawyer when negotiating a custody schedule with your soon to be ex.