Being a single father fighting for custody can be daunting, particularly if your relationship with the mother of your child is acrimonious. However, the court's paramount concern is the welfare of the child and what is in her best interest, and fathers' rights in PA are the same as mothers' rights. The situation is slightly more complicated if you are an unmarried father, as you will have to establish paternity.
Unmarried Pennsylvania Fathers' Rights
If you are an unmarried father in Pennsylvania and your relationship with your child’s mother comes to an end, you have an additional obstacle when fighting for custody. Under Pennsylvania law, any child of unmarried parents is considered to be the child of the mother. This means, as an unmarried father, you have to take legal steps to secure your right to any future custody or visitation. You can do this by admitting or stating, verbally or in writing, that you are the child’s father. If the child’s mother disputes your claim of paternity, you may have to establish paternity in court. Establishing paternity lets you take advantage of the same custody right as a married father.
Types of Child Custody Arrangements
Two types of custody rights in Pennsylvania are legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody involves a parent’s ability to make important decisions abut a child’s health, education, religion, welfare, etc. Physical custody considers where the child lives and receives daily care. Different combinations of custody may be determined in court, for example, both parents may have legal custody but one parent has sole physical custody. Joint physical custody is also an option, whereby the parents effectively share physical custody of their child.
Deciding Custody Rights in Pennsylvania
The family court considers what is in "the best interests of the child" when making a judgment in custody disputes. The most important of all child custody laws in PA for fathers is the Child Custody Act. Under this legislation, the court is required to consider 16 different factors. Extra importance is given to factors that concern the child’s safety. Some factors focus directly on the child, such as her personal custody preference and sibling relationships. Others focus on environment and support, and other examine the ability of the parents to raise the child. Abuse, a history of drug or alcohol abuse, the level of conflict between the parents and whether a parent has tried to alienate the other parent from the child are all taken into account.