Doylestown and Newtown Custody Cases - How is Custody Decided in Pennsylvania?

Parents who are going through a divorce or are separated face the issue of custody.  How is custody decided in Pennsylvania custody cases?  Can the parties agree on a custody arrangement without the court, or do custody arrangements have to be determined by the court?  We will answer these questions in this article.

Parties on Good Terms in Doylestown and Newtown Custody Cases

Similar to divorces, if the parents are on good terms, they can often come to an agreement on the custody arrangement.  In those cases, there is no need for the parties to actually appear in Court.  It is always better to have the agreement in writing with the specific terms so there are no disputes about what the agreement was later.  It is also best to have that agreement entered as a Court order so that it’s terms can be enforced in the event of non-compliance.  Although parties may be getting along now, they may have a disagreement about something later.

Parents Not on Good Terms in Doylestown and Newtown Custody Cases

When parents are not on good terms, determining custody can be a battle. One parent may not be willing to give up a holiday without their children, or both parents may want sole custody.  In such cases, the courts will need to intervene and determine custody.

Judges will enter a Custody order according to what they determine to be in the best interest of the child.  In Pennsylvania there are sixteen (16) factors a Judge must consider when determining what is in the best interest of the child.  Each of these 16 factors must be given equal weight except for those that might affect the safety or welfare of the child.  These factors are:

(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.

(2.1) The information set forth in section 5329.1(a) (relating to consideration of child abuse and involvement with protective services).

(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.

(16) Any other relevant factor.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has mandated that the trial court judge must read their findings related to each these factors onto the record when entering a custody order.  This was so that there is a standard criteria used by each judge in deciding custody and the order was not based on a “gut feeling” or bias a judge may have.

According to Pennsylvania case law, there is a presumption that a shared physical custody schedule is in the best interest of the child.  A judge must enter a custody case with the presumption it will be a shared schedule, and if you are pursuing a primary custody or sole custody schedule you must convince the judge it is in the best interest of the child to deviate from that presumption.  This presumption can be overcome by presenting factual evidence related to the custody factors.  

If you have a child custody case in Doylestown or Newtown, it is best to discuss your custody case with a Pennsylvania divorce lawyer.