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Guidelines assist in child custody

Shared legal custody in Pennsylvania permits both parents' involvement in major decisions, such as education, health and religion. Luckily, long-established customs and behaviors apply to child custody which encourage this involvement and establishes stability and prevent rancor.

The underlying principle is that cooperation and simple civility can lower the likelihood of turmoil. For example, a parent should seek the other parent's cooperation and assistance for a united effort in disciplining children and setting rules on bedtimes and television and computer access. Both parents should also agree on any decisions that permanently or significantly changes a child's appearance, such as tattoos or ear piercing.

Blocking visits and interfering with access can only provoke legal disputes and acrimony. A parent should not stop a visit to the other parent as punishment for the child. Even though Pennsylvania does not allow a child under 18 to refuse a parental visit, parents still should also insist and ensure that the child is prepared and available for scheduled time-sharing.

Additionally, both parents shall have reasonable access to their children over the telephone, text messages or email. All telephone calls should be promptly returned to the other parent. A parent should not eavesdrop on communications between the other parent and their child.

Tension is further elevated and children are treated unfairly when they must deliver money or messages between the parents or be placed in the middle of disputes. Similarly, children should not be questioned about events at the other parent's home or asked to withhold secrets from the other parent.

Parents also should remember and respect the power that the other parent has when they have physical custody. The parent with physical custody decides whether the child can participate in non-structured events such as dances, sleep-overs or parties during the time of that custody. That parent is responsible for transporting the child for the activity.

Strict legal rules, however, also govern. For example, a parent may not move a child outside the county after a court assumes jurisdiction and issues a custody order unless both parents agree. The other parent also must receive notification of any sickness or injury requiring a school absence or doctor's visit.

An attorney can assist with enforcing a custody order. Legal representation may be necessary when a custody order should be modified.

Source: PALawHelp.org, "Overview of custody-Guidelines of conduct," accessed on Dec. 24, 2016

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