Family Law – Child Custody

Whether married or not, we understand that one of the most emotional aspects in a separation involves your children’s futures.

Under Pennsylvania law, there are two types of custody.  The first is legal custody, which is the ability to make decisions regarding the well-being of the child, including medical, educational and religious decisions. The second is physical custody, which is the time that your children physically spend with you. In either instance, the standard that the court employs when deciding custody matters is what is in the “best interests” of the child or children involved. Following are factors that the court considers when determining what is in the best interests of the children:

  1. Which parent is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the children and another party?
  2. The present and past abuse committed by a parent or member of his/her household, whether this is a continued risk of harm to the children or an abused party. Also, which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the children.
    2.1.  More information relating to consideration of child abuse and involvement with protective services can be found in section 5329.1(a).
  3. The parental duties performed by each parent on behalf of the children.
  4. The need for stability and continuity in the children’s education, family life and community life.
  5. The availability of extended family.
  6. The children’s sibling relationships.
  7. The well-reasoned preference of the children, based on the children’s maturity and judgment.
  8. The attempts of a parent to turn the children against the other parent, except in cases of domestic violence where reasonable safety measures are necessary to protect the children from harm.
  9. Which parent is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the children adequate for the children’s emotional needs?
  10. Which parent is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the children?
  11. The proximity of the residences of each parent.
  12. Each parent’s availability to care for the children or ability to make appropriate childcare arrangements.
  13. The level of conflict between the individuals involved and the willingness and ability to cooperate with one another. It should be noted that a person’s effort to protect a child from abuse by another party is not evidence of unwillingness or inability to cooperate with that individual.
  14. The history of drug or alcohol abuse of each parent or member of his/her household.
  15. The mental and physical condition of each parent or member of his/her household.
  16. Any other relevant factor.

In certain instances, grandparents and other third parties may have standing to request a specific custody arrangement or specific rights to the children. However, they must first prove their legal right to the court to initiate such an action.  Before granting any third-party custody rights, the court will again employ the best interests of the children standard, as well as the custody factors, listed in the parental rights section above.

Additionally in cases involving parents or third parties, the court may assign a court-appointed psychologist to interview the parties and the children (and often any significant others, if appropriate) to assist with the decision of a child custody arrangement.

In matters of child custody, we have a comprehensive understanding of Pennsylvania law, and will arm you with the information you need to make important decisions that are in your children’s best interests.