In Pennsylvania, divorcing parents often share joint legal and physical custody of their children. In many cases, parents can agree on the child custody arrangement. In others, a judge must decide what child custody arrangement is in the best interests of the child. To determine what arrangement is in best interest of the child, a Judge will weigh Pennsylvania’s 16 statutory factors to consider when awarding custody.
Are you having trouble negotiating your child custody arrangement? Are you concerned about whether you will get custody of your children? Are you worried you won’t see your children enough?
We can help with your child custody case. Our Philadelphia child custody lawyers have over 40 years of experience negotiating and litigating child custody matters, and we can help you and your children get the best possible custody arrangement. Call us to schedule a consultation.
The 16 Statutory Child Custody Factors in Pennsylvania
Bear in mind that these factors do not weigh equally in determining what child custody arrangement is best for your child. If a parent is unfit for any reason, that will outweigh any other factor. Also know that these factors are gender-neutral and do not weigh in favor of either party.
When neither parent is able or willing to care for a child, an adult who has a special relationship with the child, as defined by Pennsylvania law can file for child custody in PA.
1. The willingness of each parent to allow and encourage the child to spend time with the other parent.
Pennsylvania child custody law recognizes both the right of parents to have a relationship with their children and the right of children to have a relationship with both parents. If one parent is unwilling to allow the child to visit the other, or if that parent actively discourages the child from visiting, that will factor against them in determining the child custody arrangement.
2. Whether there is a history of child abuse in the household and which parent can best keep the child safe.
This factor will weigh heavily in the judge’s decision. If Pennsylvania Child Welfare Services has been involved with the family, the Judge will take testimony from them, as well as testimony from physicians or any other party with knowledge of any past abuse committed.
Domestic violence or child abuse can be physical, emotional, sexual, or all three. A Judge will craft a custody arrangement to keep the child safe from further abuse.
3. Current parental duties performed by each parent for the child.
Parental duties can include:
- Providing suitable safe, clean housing
- Providing meals
- Providing medical care
- Encouraging relationships with family and friends
- Attending to the child’s emotional and physical needs
If either parent currently performs most of the physical care of the child, that will weigh in their favor in determining who Is awarded physical custody of the child.
4. Maintaining stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life, and activities.
This factor supports the continuation of the status quo. Children’s lives can be significantly disrupted by divorce. Keeping all other aspects of life as normal as possible under the circumstances is the goal of this factor.
5. The availability of the child’s extended family.
This factor favors a child custody arrangement that allows the child access to grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and others.
6. The child’s relationship with siblings.
What child custody arrangement will preserve the children’s relationship with each other? In the case of blended families, this can work both ways – sometimes custody is split and physical custody is awarded to the children’s natural parents.
7. The child’s preference.
If a child is mature enough to express a reasoned preference for who they wish to live with, the judge will take that preference into consideration. A preference of one parent over the other because they are more lenient or have a bigger house is not taken into consideration.
8. Whether there have been attempts at parental alienation.
A judge will not tolerate attempts to turn the child against the other parent. This will weigh heavily against the parent doing so.
9. Whether one parent is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child, meeting the child’s emotional needs.
This factor is often considered together with number 10 below.
10. Whether one parent is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational, and special needs of the child.
Factor 9 and factor 10 are often considered together and weigh heavily in awarding primary physical custody of the child. The parent satisfying relevant factors is called the “custodial parent” and may still have joint physical and legal custody with the “non-custodial parent” or may have sole custody if the other parent is unfit.
11. The proximity of the parents’ households.
The closer the parents’ residences are, the less disruptive a shared or joint child custody arrangement will be. If both parents live within the child’s school district, this also supports shared or joint physical custody.
12. Each parent’s ability to care for the child or to provide appropriate child care arrangements.
A judge’s preference is to award a parent additional physical custody time rather than have the other parent place the child in care.
13. Whether there is continuing conflict between the parents.
If divorcing parents cannot agree or cooperate in raising their child, the judge will take this into consideration and include provisions in the child custody order that mitigate the effect. If the judge awards joint legal custody but the parents cannot agree on school choice or other major decisions, the judge may have to provide for which parent makes which decisions.
For example, where the parties have joint custody a judge may order that the parent in possession of the child drop the child off at the door of the other parent, rather than that parent picking the child up, to avoid conflict. The judge may be more specific with the schedule, and may order that each household maintain supplies and clothing for the child so that little packing is required.
In cases of extreme rancor between the parents where no co-parenting is possible, a judge may have to award sole custody.
14. Whether either parent has a history of substance abuse.
If a parent has been or is being successfully treated for drug or alcohol abuse, their history does not preclude being awarded custody. In these cases, a judge may order an independent evaluation and/or periodic testing to ensure the safety of the child.
15. Whether either parent has a physical or mental condition that affects their ability to care for the child.
If either parent has a mental illness, physical disability, or physical illness that affects their ability to parent the child, the judge must take that into consideration. For example, a double amputee in a wheelchair may have difficulty caring for a toddler. Someone with severe depression or anxiety may be unable to parent a child of any age.
Having a disability or illness does not preclude being awarded custody, however. The parent needs to show they are being successfully treated, or, in the case of a physical disability, that they can compensate for that and effectively care for their child.
16. Any other relevant information.
This is where the judge looks at each family situation and determines if any aspect of that situation weighs for or against legal or physical custody.
For example, if one parent has their parents living with them, who could provide child care while that parent is at work, that is a factor weighing in favor of physical custody because this preserves and strengthens the child’s bond with their grandparents.
If one parent lives in an underperforming school district and the other lives in a well-performing school district, school choice can affect which parent gets primary physical custody.
Our PA Child Custody Lawyers Can Help You
There is rarely a perfect solution when the parents disagree about child custody and a judge must decide. We advocate for the best interests of your child and will help you get the child custody arrangement that is best for your family.