When parents get a divorce or when a couple that was never married breaks up, child custody issues will need to be addressed. The parents will have to make important decisions as to legal custody, physical custody, joint custody and sole custody of their children if the kids are under the age of 18.As a parent, your child’s welfare is the most important thing to you. If you have serious issues with your spouse or the mother or father of your child, then you need to tread these waters very carefully. If you are a victim of domestic violence, or if your child is being physically abused, then you need to seek legal help right away. The system does its best to protect domestic violence victims but you need to do what you can within legal limits to remove yourself and your child from the potentially dangerous environment.It is not uncommon for the abuser to instill an overwhelming amount of fear in their victims. If your life or the lives of your children have been threatened by your attacker if you leave, then you need to be extremely careful with how you handle this situation. It may seem easier to stay in the violent situation but you cannot make the mistake of staying. Domestic violence can quickly escalate and you wouldn’t want you or your child to experience life-threatening injuries.If you are afraid that your spouse will kidnap your children if you get a divorce or harm you in any way, it’s all the more reason to seek legal help. There is nothing safe about staying in an abusive relationship and getting a restraining order can help protect you and your children as well as help your upcoming child custody matter.The term “custody” refers to who has the child,and what time either parent will have their child(ren). There are different versions to this, and different situations will elicit a different type of custody. Sole custody refers to both legal and physical. Legal custody is the parent’s right to make important decisions for the child. These could include decisions about where the children will live, what religion they will be raised with, where they will go to school, who their medical doctor will be and what types of extracurricular activities they will be enrolled in. The parent with physical custody has the child living with them most of the time and they have the right to make important decisions regarding the child’s everyday needs. When an individual has sole custody, it means that they have both legal and physical custody of their child and the child has only one primary residence.Split custody is where there are two children and one child lives with each parent. This type of arrangement is dependent upon the age of the children and the preference of the children involved.Joint custody has several meanings; First of all, it refers to situations in which both parents have the right to make decisions about their child’s upbringing, but the child has one primary residence. With shared legal custody, the child has two primary residences, and they must spend at least 35% of their time with the other parent. The courts scrutinize joint custody agreements, and when parents are constantly fighting over certain issues the court might strike it down altogether. It’s extremely important that parents who are pursuing joint custody try to work with one another to determine what will be best for the child or children involved.Family courts in Pennsylvania have moved away from automatically awarding custody to the mother in cases of divorce. Today, the courts are gender neutral and will give both parents equal consideration if they cannot come to an arrangement on their own. There are a number of factors that will be considered before making a determination. They will look at each parent’s willingness to share custody, the financial situation of each individual, the child’s relationship with each parent, employment considerations (long hours etc.), age, the number of children and more.Furthermore, if the parents were never legally married it will be necessary to establish paternity before awarding a father custody and visitation rights. Before paternity is established, the child is considered the mother’s child; therefore, if a father desires to have rights to his child, or if a mother wishes to receive child support paternity must be admitted or established in court.Custody arrangements are not permanent. Circumstances can change over time, giving parents the need to make a modification to the existing agreements. At any point in time before the child turns 18 years of age, either parent can petition the family court for a modification.If you are contemplating divorce, or if you have already been served papers it is important to seek the services of an experienced attorney. Your attorney can help you draw up a workable child custody and visitation agreement with your spouse. If the splitting couple cannot agree on a child custody and visitation schedule, then professional legal counsel can fully prepare your case to ensure that your side is accurately presented in front of a judge. Either way, retaining the services of a qualified lawyer will give you the best chances of reaching a favorable outcome in your child custody matter. So please, contact a family lawyer today so you can start protecting your parental rights.