Pennsylvania Family Law and Divorce
Lisa Marie Vari & Associates, P.C.

Bristol Palin's Custody Case and the Presumption for Shared Physical Custody in the United States

Alaska courts issued their second custody order regarding Bristol Palin's children today. Ms. Palin, the daughter of former Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, was ordered to exercise shared custody of her daughter, Sailor Grace with her Medal of Honor recipient former fiancé, Dakota Meyer. Earlier this year, a similar order was issued regarding Palin's older son Tripp, which granted the child's father, Levi Johnson, shared custody of the child. Although some people exalt this decision as a "loss" for Palin, who had previously exercised full or primary legal and physical custody of her children, this decision is all too common across the county as states increasingly favor shared physical custody.

Many states, Pennsylvania include, have a presumption in favor of shared physical and legal custody when at all possible. This typically means that when both parents are fit, live relatively close to each other, and communication is at least mostly civil, a court will order that parties share custody. Obviously a court cannot divide the children's time exactly 50/50 as there are 365 days in a year, but for the most part in Pennsylvania, courts will favor a week-on-week-off schedule where the parties each exercise custody for a seven day alternating period or at 5-2-2-5 schedule where the parties alternate custody every five or every two days. This arrangement usually works well for children as it allows them to spend significant time with both parents and allows them to spend fun weekend time and work weekday time with each parent.

Although this presumption is rebuttable and many courts award one parent primary custody when this arrangement is totally unworkable or the parents live very far apart, most courts and court officials favor shared custody. This is usually influenced by the fact that the goal of child custody litigation is to achieve the best interest of the child, and it is usually in the child's best interest to have an active relationship with both parents. This is supported by the fact that many court appoint custody evaluators who conduct psychological evaluations of the parties in a custody litigation will recommend shared physical custody in most cases in which it is a workable solution.

Custody litigants should not lose heart if they believe that it is in the best interest of their children for them to have primary physical custody of the children. By applying the factors listed under Pennsylvania custody law, parents and their attorneys have the opportunity to prove the court that for any number of reasons one parent should have more time than the other. If you are involved in a custody litigation and need help overcoming the shared custody presumption, contact our Cranberry Township office today!

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