Navigating the dissolution of a marriage is challenging enough for most divorcing couples, but for those with children, custody disputes can multiply the level of emotional distress involved.

Parents who can't agree on legal custody or physical custody of their children can find themselves as opponents in adversarial child custody litigation. Custody disputes arise because of one fundamental challenge: how can parents who no longer live together or, in some cases, even speak to one another raise their children together?

Disputes over custody

Williams Family Law's divorce attorneys in Doylestown advise divorcing parents that they should, whenever possible, reach a mutually agreeable solution as to whether and how legal and physical custody will be shared. Of primary importance is what is in the best interest of the child or children. Of course, it is not always possible to resolve custody disputes amicably. When the parties in a divorce or custody dispute reach such an impasse, one or both may file complaints seeking a custody order from a family court.

Depending on the jurisdiction, a court that receives a custody complaint first might order the disputing parties and their attorneys to attend a session with a professional mediator. The mediator's job is to reduce the family court's caseload by attempting to negotiate a compromise between the divorcing parents and their legal counsel that results in a workable custody agreement.

Take it to the judge

If mediation is unsuccessful, the court then will schedule a hearing in which the disputing parties will make their arguments for full or partial legal and physical custody to a judge. In many instances, before a case is deemed appropriate for a full custody hearing, the court will require the parties to participate in a neutral custody evaluation.

An evaluation typically is conducted by a neutral psychologist who will interview the parties, suggested collateral witnesses, and, possibly, the child or children at issue. The evaluator then will draft a report to the court outlining his or her recommendation, in consideration of Pennsylvania law, as to what custodial schedule would be in the child or children's best interest. The court is not bound by this report but is likely to give a properly reasoned report strong consideration before making a decision.

A deciding judge then will issue a ruling either in favor of one parent's position or order some degree of compromise between the two parties' positions. Custody is always modifiable, should modification be in the best interests of the child or children.

Issues of child custody are fraught with intricacies and colored by emotion. The experienced domestic relations lawyers at Williams Family Law, P.C. can help divorcing parents create a child custody solution that is in the best interest of their children. If you have questions, please call us at 215-340-2207.