How Is Child Custody Determined In Pennsylvania?

As in most states, courts in Pennsylvania are required to make child custody decisions in the best interests of the child. While this standard seems vague on its own, there are 16 factors used to determine best interests. A partial list includes:

  • The co-parenting relationship between the two parents
  • Each parent's willingness to encourage and foster a relationship between the child and his or her other parent
  • Any history of abuse or domestic violence
  • Any history of drug or alcohol abuse
  • The willingness and ability of each parent to tend to the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of the child.
  • The child's relationship with siblings and extended family (if access to those loved ones would be affected by living with one parent or the other)
  • The preferences of the child (if the child is sufficiently old enough and mature enough to state an informed preference)

Courts generally want to keep both parents as involved as possible in their child's life — hence the focus on parents facilitating relationships with the other parent. Unless there are compelling reasons to award sole custody, some form of shared custody is the norm.

It is also important to understand that there are two types of custody: legal and physical. Legal custody is the authority of each parent to make important decisions about the child's upbringing (education, religious indoctrination, medical care, etc.). Parents are often awarded joint legal custody.

Physical custody refers to which parent is spending time with and caring for the child and how often. This varies according to the factors mentioned above.

Should You Make Your Own Agreement Or Leave It To The Court?

Most lawyers and judges will tell you that reaching a custody agreement with your co-parent, when possible, is better than letting a judge decide. Negotiation gives you the most control over the outcome, and it allows you to craft a plan that really works for the whole family. In some cases, such as situations involving domestic violence, negotiation is not always possible or preferable.

Working With An Experienced Attorney

Whether you are negotiating an agreement or petitioning the court, you should rely on the guidance of a skilled family law attorney like Jacqueline Zabresky. There are countless details to consider and document, and the stakes of a custody agreement are simply too high to proceed without counsel.

Ms. Zabresky will take the time to get to know you and learn about your children — including understanding your needs and goals. She will then work with you to craft a legal strategy to meet those needs and goals.

Contact The Firm For A Free Initial Consultation

The Law Offices of Jacqueline Zabresky is located in Wilkes-Barre and serves clients throughout the area. To take advantage of a free initial consultation, call 570-285-4999 or send the firm an email.