Knowing How a Decision Will Be Reached
When determining custody cases in Pennsylvania, judges ultimately take a number of factors into consideration. Understanding these factors could potentially give you and your custody attorney an edge when arguing your case in court. Here are the 16 factors listed in Pennsylvania law that guide a judge’s custody determination.
Factor #1: A Willingness to Encourage a Relationship With Both Parents
One determining factor in custody decisions if each parent wants their child to engage with the other parent. Pennsylvania law recognizes that both parents have the right to have a relationship with their child, so judges look to see if either parent wants to cut off that relationship or foster its growth.
Factor #2: A History of Abuse and a Commitment to Safety
Judges in Pennsylvania look to see if there has been any history of child abuse, whether that be physical, emotional, or sexual. They must make custody decisions that ultimately improve or maintain a child’s safety.
Factor #3: Current Parental Duties Performed by Each Parent
A judge may examine which parent is engaging in certain parental activities and if one parent is involved in a larger number of these duties. These parental duties may include the provision of shelter, meals, clothing, education, and medical care, among others.
Factor #4: Maintained Stability of Education, Family Life, and Other Activities
Divorce can uproot the stability of life that a child has come to know and expect in their day-to-day routine. If a parent is actively working to ensure that a child has some level of stability in their lives despite this new change, that act may go further in a custody decision.
Factor #5: The Availability of Extended Family
A judge may look favorably on a living arrangement that allows a child to maintain contact with extended family members such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, or cousins.
Factor #6: The Relationship Between a Child and Siblings
One goal in a custody determination is to allow a relationship between a child and their siblings to be maintained. In some instances, custody can be split between the two parents, while in others one parent has sole physical care over multiple children.
Factor #7: The Preference of the Child
This factor is typically reserved for children who are older or more mature. If the child has a preference for which parent with whom they would like to live, a judge may take that preference into consideration; however, the preference must be based on parental relationship and not on factors such as which parent has a bigger house.
Factor #8: The Presence of Parental Alienation
Some parents work to turn their child against another parent in order to win their favor and make the other parent look bad. Judges do not tolerate this type of behavior. If there is parental alienation going on, that could influence a judge’s decision.
Factor #9: The Likelihood of One Parent Maintaining a Healthy Relationship Over the Other
A judge will examine both parents’ relationships with the child to determine whether one is better equipped to have a healthy relationship that meets the child’s emotional needs.
Factor #10: The Likelihood of One Parent Meeting a Child’s Daily Needs Over the Other
Similar to the above factor (and in some cases grouped with the ninth factor), a judge will look at each parent and determine if one is better prepared to provide daily care for the child. These needs can include physical, mental, emotional, educational, and spiritual.
Factor #11: How Close Parents’ Households Are to One Another
If the two parents live relatively close to one another in proximity, it is possible that a judge could find a joint custody scenario less disruptive to a child’s routine and wellbeing.
Factor #12: The Ability of Each Parent to Provide Care for the Child
If both parents work and are unable to stay home with the child, then it is important for them to have a plan to provide childcare, whether that be through an after-school program or through a third-party childcare provider. The parent with the resources to be able to provide this type of care may receive a larger share of parenting time.
Factor #13: The Presence of Continuing Conflict Between The Child’s Presence
If custody is awarded to both parents yet there are still disagreements over issues such as school choice that remain, a judge may work to prevent as many conflicts as possible by assigning which parent receives which decision-making right. One may be given educational decisions while the other may have responsibility for medical decisions.
Factor #14: A Parent’s History of Substance Abuse
A parent with a history of drug or alcohol abuse, regardless of completion of rehabilitation programs, is less likely to maintain physical care for a child than a parent with no history of substance use.
Factor #15: The Presence of a Physical or Mental Disability That Prevents Proper Childcare
A judge must take any physical or mental disability that renders a parent unable to provide proper care for a child into their decision. Someone with a mental health issue should be able to argue they are being treated, and someone with a physical disability should prove their condition does not impact their ability to meet a child’s needs.
Factor #16: Any Other Relevant Information That May Determine Custody
Other situations such as grandparents living with a parent or other scenarios that could impact a child’s wellbeing can play into a judge’s decision on custody.
Enlisting the Help of a Pennsylvania Custody Attorney
Reading through these factors may leave you with questions or thoughts on your case. At Statt Law we understand how sensitive a custody case can be, which is why we are committed to helping you work toward the most favorable outcome.
To schedule a consultation with our custody attorneys, call us at (717) 537-0928 or visit us online.