How Courts Make Decisions in Pennsylvania Child Custody Cases

Child custody is typically one of the more contentious family law issues. Many parents want to play a significant role in the life of their child, but this may be something that the other parent is strongly against. Much emotional energy is spent trying to find a decision that works for everyone involved, especially the children, and often, it is necessary for the court to make a decision. Whether it is a marriage heading toward divorce or a relationship that is coming to an end, if the couple has children, custody will be a concern.

Several different child custody options are available. The parents may try to share time with the child, however, that may not be appropriate in every situation. It may also be necessary to determine how the parties will be allowed to decide major life decisions for the child, and how to divide the expenses between the parents. With so many aspects involved in each case, it is easy to see why child custody matters can become extremely complicated.

Pennsylvania Child Custody Laws

Every decision regarding child custody will require a careful review of the family's situation. In Pennsylvania child custody cases, the court will use the "best interests of the child" standard. This means that the court will attempt to determine a custody plan that is best for the child. The statutes list several possible factors that the court will consider to make this decision, including:

  • Which parent is more likely to encourage contact between the child and the other parent?
  • What duties does each parent perform on the child's behalf?
  • Are there drug, alcohol or abuse issues by one of the parents?
  • Which parent provides the most stability to the child?
  • What are the child's preferences based on the child's maturity and judgment?

This is just a small sample of the factors that the court will need to examine. However, the bottom line in all custody cases is what is in the child's best interest.

Both parents are usually allowed to jointly make major life decisions, such as which school the child will attend, what religion the child will follow as well as any potential after-school activities in which the child wishes to participate.

Noncustodial parents may receive partial physical custody with the child. Parents often will have the child for overnight or weekend visits, and may also receive custody on certain holidays. It will be up to the court to determine the proper schedule of visitation if the parties are unable to resolve the matter.

Modifications to Custody Orders

Once the custody decision has been made by the court, should the best interests of the child change, a parent may file to modify the ruling. In this difficult economy, more parents have had to relocate to find work. If a parent has primary custody of a child, this will impact the custody order that is in effect.

If a custodial parent wants to move to another state with the child, it will be necessary to file for relocation. Before the relocation will be granted, the court will look at many factors including:

  • The nature, quality, extent of involvement and duration of the child's relationship with the party proposing to relocate and with the nonrelocating party, siblings and other significant persons in the child's life;
  • The age, developmental stage, needs of the child and the likely impact the relocation will have on the child's physical, educational and emotional development, taking into consideration any special needs of the child;
  • The feasibility of preserving the relationship between the nonrelocating party and the child through suitable custody arrangements, considering the logistics and financial circumstances of the parties;
  • Whether the relocation will enhance the general quality of life for the relocating party and/or the child, including but not limited to, financial or emotional benefit or educational opportunity;
  • The reasons and motivation of each party for seeking or opposing the relocation.

Other factors may play a role in modifications as well. The ending of a relationship can be a traumatic time, and it may cause behavioral changes in the parent. The stress may lead to the abuse of alcohol or drugs, and that is not a healthy environment for any child.

It is important for a parent to stay involved in the life of their children. If you have questions about a custody issue, it is critical to obtain the representation of an experienced child custody attorney. Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg and Gifford have four attorneys who handle child custody matters and go before the courts in Montgomery, Bucks, Chester, and Lehigh Counties.

Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg and Gifford offers free consultations at which your matter will be reviewed and assessed. Call 215-822-7575 today to speak to an experienced child custody attorney to understand how best to proceed. The decisions made at this time will have a serious impact on your family. Knowing the options that are available to you can help you make the decisions that are best for your child.

 - Article by Amy Stern