Before a husband and wife divorce in Pennsylvania, they may choose to legally separate. When this occurs, the two parties may come to a written agreement called a separation and property settlement agreement. This agreement spells out who gets custody of the child, when visitation may occur and whether or not spousal or child support payments will be made.
Such an agreement may also spell out how property is to be divided and who will pay for health care or legal expenses. Certain parts of the contract may be modified by the court if circumstances change in regards to visitation or child support. However, child custody may be changed by a court regardless of whether there is a change in circumstances.
The agreement may also contain any terms that the couple agrees to that do not violate state law. For example, a property division agreement may determine what happens to money in a retirement account. While the agreement is not a court order, it is considered to be a binding contract. It is generally written by the attorneys separately representing each party, as both sides should be represented during the negotiation process.
Regardless of any agreement that a couple comes to during a divorce, a court generally will make changes if it is not in the best interest of a child. Therefore, couples with children may wish to pay special attention to ensuring that their separation agreement provides for their children even if they don't get along with the other parent. This may mean allowing the custodial parent use of the family home or crafting an equal visitation schedule.
Source: Pennsylvania Bar Association, "Divorce & Separation", October 14, 2014