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How Do Judges Decide Who Gets Custody of a Child in Pennsylvania?
Understand the common factors Pennsylvania’s judges use when making child custody decisions.

How Pennsylvania Courts make Child Custody Decisions

Updated: 2020-06-23 by

Resources and Takeaways: To study the specific factors used by Pennsylvania family law judges, read 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. Section 5328. If you’re working with a lawyer, mediator, or both, ask them for help understanding how Pennsylvania law applies to your specific circumstances. And be sure to take advantage of any self-help resources available from the Pennsylvania family law court for York County.

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If you’ve found this article, it’s probably because you or someone you know is facing a child custody fight in Pennsylvania family court. Below, we set out the common factors judges use when making custody determinations, including links to Pennsylvania law.

Court Should be Your Last Resort

Going to court to get custody of a child will be stressful for you and, worse, tough on the children. Also, because judges have so much flexibility to make custody decisions, it leaves the family vulnerable to the biased opinions of individual judges. For these reasons and more, a court case is something to pursue only if all other options—like negotiation and mediation—have failed. Take advantage of all the resources available to you for creating a parenting plan before subjecting yourself and your kids to a court battle.

Pennsylvania Best Interests of the Child Standard

Family law judges decide child custody cases using a legal standard called “the best interests of the child.” When determining what kind of parenting plan is best for your kids, a judge will usually want to minimize disruption in the kids’ lives and help them stay connected with both parents unless there’s a good reason not to.

Judges may consider many specific factors, including:

  • the child’s age, health, and social requirements and and how well each parent can meet the child’s needs
  • the child’s current living situation and how well the status quo is working for the child
  • the child’s relationships with other significant people in each parent’s life
  • the child’s wishes, if the child is old enough to understand and take part in the decision
  • the parents' willingness and ability to share custody
  • whether one parent is likely to do more to support the child’s relationship with the other parent, and
  • whether there is any history of domestic violence, physical abuse, substance abuse, or neglect.

To collect the necessary information information, the judge will consider all available resources, including the parents, reliable witnesses who are familiar with the child’s situation, and any mediators, mental health professionals, or social workers assigned to help with the custody evaluation.

Keep in mind that a judge will look at what is best for the kids right now, not what may happen in the future. If family circumstances change, you will have to ask to modify the parenting agreement.

What Judges Don’t Consider

When you read your state’s law, below, you may notice that there are certain factors courts are not allowed to consider when deciding what’s in a child’s best interests.  These factors almost always include the parent’s gender, race, and financial means. In some states, judges aren’t allowed to consider a parent’s sexual orientation. If you’re in the military, many states won’t allow a judge to factor in your deployment status.

More Information

Specific Factors Used by Pennsylvania Family Law Judges

23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. Section 5328

Working With a Lawyer

If you’re working with a lawyer, mediator, or both, ask them for help understanding how Pennsylvania law applies to your specific circumstances.

How to Find a Child Custody Lawyer in Pennsylvania

Self-Help Resources From Your Local Family Court

Pennsylvania Family Law Court for York County

 

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