In child custody matters in Pennsylvania, family law judges are not permitted to give preferential treatment to a party based on gender, nationality, religious affiliation, etc. Rather, Pennsylvania law requires family law judges in Bucks County to apply a specific legal standard in child custody cases. Judges must decide custody cases based on what is in the best interests of the child.
In this article, our child custody and family law attorneys discuss specific factors in Bucks County child custody cases. The factors discussed below are presented in hypothetical situations. For legal assistance in a child custody case, contact our office. (215) 968-1800 (Newtown Office) or (215) 340-5500 (Doylestown Office)
Under the law, judges are required to consider 16 specific factors when making custody determinations. See 23 Pa. C.S. Section 5328. Factors to consider when awarding custody; click the link for more information on the best interests of the child standard.
Appropriate Housing & School Arrangements
Where a child will be living or going to school plays a fairly significant part in determining custody because family law judges tend to be practical when deciding custody matters. In other words, courts look at what makes the most sense. A parent with a studio apartment who seeks full custody of 4 children would not have a strong case for obtaining custody, absent other factors like abuse. In addition, the status quo is important, especially if the child is thriving.
For example, mom and dad are divorced. While married, they lived in Bucks County. Their children are in middle school. Dad received full custody and mom received partial custody because she moved to Montgomery County. Mom decides she wants more time with her children and files a petition seeking full custody. In her petition, mom also asks that the children be transferred to the school district in her township. However, the children are thriving with dad and doing very well in school. Mom’s request is likely to be denied, unless there are other factors at play. Mom may be able to obtain more time with her children, such as additional week nights, but she is unlikely to receive full custody because of the disruption in the children’s lives.
Bucks County family law judges may consider a child’s preference if the child demonstrates sufficient maturity. Generally, the preference of an older child, such as a teenager, would have more weight than the preference of a younger child. In addition, the child must have valid reasons for preferring one parent over the other. For instance, a court would likely give low weight to a teenager who prefers dad because dad works late and imposes few rules on the teen. However, the court may give more weight if the teen prefers dad because dad coaches the teen’s sports teams and is very active in the teen’s school life.
Alcohol or Substance Abuse
How does alcohol or substance abuse affect custody in Bucks County? This issue does arise in child custody matters. Courts will review any alcohol or substance abuse issues carefully. Does the party have a current or past alcohol or substance abuse issue? If it’s a current issue, is the party receiving treatment and if so, what is the status of that treatment? How is the child’s physical, mental and emotional welfare affected by the party’s abuse issues?
Significant Other of a Party Seeking Custody
Whether a party who is seeking custody has a significant other is only considered if the relationship has any impact on the child. If mom’s new boyfriend only comes around when the child is at dad’s house, then the mom’s new relationship is not relevant. However, if mom’s new boyfriend moves into the home, and he imposes strict rules that negatively affect the emotional health of the child, then mom’s relationship now affects the child. In this situation, the court would consider the extent of the impact on the child. The Court also prefers the parent who maintains a stable and consistent environment for the child. If a party is frequently introducing new significant others to the children, this could produce an unstable and confusing environment for the child and negatively affect the child’s well-being.
It is important to note that before a custody case reaches a judge for a decision, there will likely be a custody evaluation. In addition, family law courts prefer that parties to a custody matter reach an agreement. Custody hearings are very stressful for children. Our child custody lawyers are highly skilled negotiators who make every attempt to resolve custody matters in the most compassionate and efficient manner possible. Contact our family lawyers to discuss your child custody matter. (215) 968-1800 (Newtown Office) or (215) 340-5500 (Doylestown Office)
Need more information? Download our Pennsylvania Child Custody Law PDF.