When parents no longer wish to cohabitate and raise their children together, whether married or not, they will need to determine parenting arrangements for their children. They will also need to determine how parenting decisions will be made. This can be done by agreement between the parents and not involve the court system at all if they so choose.

If parents cannot agree on how they will share time with their children or how they will make parenting decisions, the court system will make those decisions.  Judges may consider any facts they believe are relevant to a child’s best interests.  Although judges have wide latitude in determining what facts are important in custody decisions, the PA custody statute identifies certain factors that judges must consider in making custody decisions.  The goal of the court in making custody decisions is to determine what is in children’s best interests.

There are two types of custody in Pennsylvania – legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody includes making decisions for children, such as health and medical concerns, religious determinations and educational decisions. Physical custody addresses where, when and with whom children will physically spend time.

Section 5328(a) of the PA Custody Statute provides that “in ordering any form of custody, the court shall determine the best interest of the child or children by considering all relevant factors, but then giving weighted consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the child or children.”  There are sixteen factors the court must consider, and the factors that affect children’s safety are given more weight.

The court must consider which parent is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the children and the other parent. Is there present or past abuse committed by a parent or a member of their household? The sibling relationships, the child’s own preference (depending on maturity and judgment) and which parent is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the children must also be considered.

Child care arrangements, level of conflict between the parents and any history of drug or alcohol abuse are additional items the court must consider. Many additional factors can come into play depending on the individual situation. No two custody situations are the same, so judges must make decisions based on the specific facts of each case they consider.

If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Carlisle, Harrisburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss child custody in Pennsylvania or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.