The standard for an award of custody of a child in Pennsylvania is what is in the “best interests” of the child. The changes to the custody laws in 2011 mean that custody determinations are gender neutral. Absent certain circumstances, the majority of parents share legal custody of their child and many share physical custody on an equal basis. Legal custody is the right to make decisions about the child’s education, religion, diet, etc. Physical custody is where the child actually resides. When parents separate, the court will often order co-parent counseling to facilitate the transition to dual households. Co-parent counseling allows for parents to meet with a trained therapist and discuss parenting issues and concerns that arise from separation. When there is a history of domestic violence, however, the effectiveness of co-parent counseling and models of shared custody are called into question.
Recent statistics indicate that “1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men in the United States have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner.” (http://ncadv.org/files/Pennsylvania.pdf). Litigating a custody and/or divorce action in these situations can lead to additional challenges. In some cases of intimate partner violence, the children may not be direct victims of physical or emotional abuse. Studies have shown, however, that witnessing abuse perpetrated by one parent on the other can be incredibly damaging to a child and have lasting effects.
In co-parent counseling, the parties and therapist meet at the same time to work through disputes and resolve issues in the best interest of the child. In cases with a history of domestic violence, there may still be power and control issues between the parties. Additionally, there may also be court orders that prohibit the perpetrator from being in the presence of, or contacting, the victim. In these cases, parallel parenting may be more appropriate. Parallel parenting differs from co-parenting in that the parties have little to no contact. The parallel parenting therapist remains a resource to both parties, but can also mitigate the power and control aspects of the abusive relationship by monitoring the situation from a clinical perspective. During this time, it may be necessary for the victim to have sole legal custody of the children in order to make decisions without the threat of abuse or manipulation by the offender.
Custody cases with a history of domestic violence are some of the most difficult and challenging in the realm of family law. Contact our experienced family law attorneys at LaMonaca Law to find out your rights and how a history of domestic violence may impact your custody case. Click or Call 610-892-3877