By Anna Ciardi
Pennsylvania’s child custody laws were overhauled in 2011, though a custody decision is still generally based upon the best interests of the child.
However, the new law lays out 15 factors to be considered when awarding custody, in addition to any other relevant factor, for a total of 16 factors that must be considered by the courts when awarding custody.
Clearly, this Pennsylvania custody statute is open to a broad interpretation, and for this reason, nearly anything and everything can be relevant in a custody litigation.
The enumerated factors include:
1) Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.
2) The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party’s household, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child.
3) The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.
4) The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life.
(5) The availability of extended family.
6) The child’s sibling relationships.
7) The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment.
8) The attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent, except in cases of domestic violence where reasonable safety measures are necessary to protect the child from harm.
9) Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs.
(10) Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational, and special needs of the child.
11) The proximity of the residences of the parties.
12) Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements.
13) The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another. A party’s effort to protect a child from abuse by another party is not evidence of unwillingness or inability to cooperate with that party.
14) The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household.
15) The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.
Changes To Pennsylvania Child Custody Laws
The new statute also provides that if a custody matter goes to trial, the judge must properly consider all factors, and must actually identify how the court reached the decision either on the record or in a written opinion.
The 2011 amendments to Pennsylvania’s custody laws also impose strict requirements on separated and divorced parents that want to move out of the jurisdiction. Generally, the parent who is interested in moving must give the non-relocating parents 60 days notice of any intended moves.
Reaching A Custody Agreement
It is also important to note that custody litigation is not inevitable, and Pennsylvania courts have intentionally designed a system geared toward helping separated or divorced parents reach a custody agreement and avoid the time and expense of a trial.
Pennsylvania courts require parents to attend education and mediation programs, and also provide for conciliations with the judge, prior to the actual trial being scheduled.
It can be extremely daunting to find yourself in a situation where you risk losing time with your children. By focusing on the factors enumerated above, you can put yourself in the best position to be awarded meaningful time with your kids.
Some of the factors may be out of your control, however, it is extremely important to be civil to the other parent, to avoid drug and alcohol issues (or to seek meaningful treatment if you struggle with these issues), and most importantly to be there for your children.
Pennsylvania Child Custody Lawyer
If you are a man facing a child custody battle, please consult with a divorce lawyer in your jurisdiction to ensure your rights are protected. Cordell & Cordell has offices and family law attorneys located in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Radnor should you seek additional information or possible legal representation.