The Custody Order is a written document, issued by the Court, which controls the custody of a child.  At its most basic level, a PA Child Custody Order establishes two key factors: physical and legal custody.  Physical Custody is the determination of when, where, and for how long each parent will retain actual control over the child.   Legal Custody is the determination of what decisions each parent may make in regards to the child.  For example, the two most common Legal Custody issues are deciding how a child will be educated and what medical care they will receive.

One of the most common questions we receive at The Banks Law Group is whether a Court Order is even necessary.  Often, parents are able to come to an agreement without the intervention of the Court.  In this case, why wouldn’t parents simply write up an agreement and both acknowledge the agreement with signatures?  First, if the parties are in agreement, the Court will allow the parties to submit their agreement, a Judge will then sign it, and the Order will then become an official Custody Order through the Court.  Second, the most important benefit of a Custody Order over an agreement is that a Custody Order is enforceable by the Court.

We often compare the Court’s ability to enforce a Custody Order to health insurance; no one plans on getting sick, but if it happens you’ll be glad you’re insured.  No one plans on the other parent violating an agreement, but if they do, the other parent will be glad to have a Court Order.   Specifically, the Court Order allows the Court to find a party in contempt if they do not follow the terms therein.  Being found in contempt can have penalties of paying a fine, paying for the opposing party’s attorney, or even being placed in jail.    These potential penalties encourage the parties to behave and adhere to the Order.  Without an Order it is very difficult to hold a party accountable because the Judge must first determine what the current agreement is, then issue an Order codifying this Agreement.

There are two types of Custody Orders: Temporary and Final.  A Temporary Custody Order is usually issued during the litigation of a custody matter to give parents guidelines until a final Custody Order can be issued.   The Final Custody Order is issued at the conclusion of litigation, whether achieved through mediation or a full trial.  However, despite the moniker of “Final,” all Custody Orders are subject to modification.

A Custody Order can be modified in two circumstances:  First, if there has been a substantial change of circumstance in the case, such as the child starting school or a parent receiving criminal charges.  Second, if a modification of the Custody Order would be in the best interest of the child in question.  A modification of the Custody Order is begun through the filing of a Petition to Modify.  The Courts understand that as children grow and as the years pass, circumstances change and what used to work well may now be an unsuitable fit for the child.

At The Banks Law Group we have assisted many clients in pursuing, creating, understanding, and enforcing Custody Orders.  Because these documents deal with your children, it is exceptionally important that these documents are approached with diligence and care.  Should you require a Custody Order; or wish to understand or change an existing Custody Order, be sure to contact The Banks Law Group for a better understanding of your options.