When you live separately from your child’s other parent, a legal custody order can ease the co-parenting relationship by establishing fair parenting time and clear expectations. You do not need to go to court to make a legal child custody agreement. Parents can create their own agreement and have it approved by the state.

Pennsylvania parents can follow these steps to get on the same page about child custody after a divorce.

Make a parenting plan

The parenting plan is a detailed document that outlines the custody schedule for your family. Agreeing on this schedule outside of court allows parents to customize it based on their situation, rather than relying on a standard plan ordered by a judge.

Parents can decide on a 50/50 custody schedule that shares time equally. Others prefer a more traditional schedule in which one parent has primary physical custody and the other has visitation every other weekend and for an extended period on school vacations.

Consider location

Most children do best when they can freely move between their parents’ homes and share a close relationship with each parent. For this reason, think about proximity when deciding where to live after a divorce. If one parent resides out of state, the parenting plan can include long vacations and weekly phone calls for the non-custodial parent.

The parenting plan should also contain a clause about relocation. For example, parents must notify each other and/or seek permission to move outside a designated radius.

Seek help

When parents cannot come to terms with child custody, they can enter the mediation process. A trained mediator meets with the family and their attorneys and helps them negotiate a fair solution.

If an agreement is not possible, either parent can file a motion with the county court where they reside to ask for a custody determination. The judge will decide any contentious points based on the best interests of the child.