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New law could impact child custody decisions

One of the most difficult decisions that parents contemplating divorce may face in Pennsylvania concerns child custody and how parenting will be shared going forward following a divorce. There is no law in the state that mandates the state's involvement, so parents are free to negotiate child custody independent of the courts. When an agreement cannot be reached, the court may intervene. Sadly, a decision from the court can take several months and may not be to the liking of one or even both parents.

When courts are involved, a recent nationwide study showed that a typical custody split was about 65% to the mother and 35% to the father. In Pennsylvania it is skewed slightly more toward the mother, with the split being 72% to 28%. A bill under consideration in the state legislature aims to change this.

House Bill 1397 states that any judge who did not award a 50-50 split would need to give a compelling reason for the decision, such as concerns of abuse or neglect. Fathers in particular state that they feel discriminated against by the courts. The belief is that two nights a week and every other weekend is insufficient time to build and maintain a healthy relationship between parent and child.

One aspect of the bill is its encouragement for parents to negotiate a reasonable child custody arrangement that focuses on the best interest of the child. It is hoped that this will encourage parents in Pennsylvania to put their child's needs ahead of their own. When agreement seems out of reach, a conversation with an experienced professional could provide help in bridging differences in opinion.

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