At one time, family courts in Pennsylvania and nationwide favored mothers over fathers in child custody decisions. Views about parenting for most of the 20th century supported the idea that children should be with their mothers. The past three decades, however, have produced a shift in attitudes that now recognize the importance for children to have access to both parents. Sole physical custody decisions for mothers have dropped substantially, and fathers are much more likely to share custody.
A study of court records showed that in 1980, family courts gave mothers sole custody in 80 percent of cases. In 2008, the same court system was only approving sole custody for mothers in 42 percent of cases. During this period, the number of parents sharing in equal custody went up from 5 percent to 27 percent.
Access to children for unmarried fathers has increased as well. With 40 percent of childbirths happening to unmarried parents these days, many unmarried men pursue child custody agreements that maintain their relationships with their children. The trend among divorced parents toward shared physical custody has benefited unmarried fathers as well because courts will evaluate their custody petitions in largely the same manner as cases involving previously-married people.
A person who needs to work out a child custody schedule must consider many factors, such as school schedules, holidays, vacations, work obligations, child care availability and sometimes parental relocation. The representation of an attorney could guide a person through these issues until the parents come to terms. An attorney could then prepare the custody and visitation agreement for submission to a family court for approval. If the process does not go smoothly, an attorney might recommend compromises that help a client overcome disputes with the other parent.