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Legal Information: Pennsylvania


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Laws current as of December 15, 2023

How will a judge make a decision about custody?

Custody decisions are based on a “best interest of the child” standard. The best interest of the child is determined on a case-by-case basis. The judge will look at the following factors to come up with an arrangement that s/he thinks is in the best interest of the child (and s/he must give heavy consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the child):

  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 (such as a new spouse); and whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or to an abused party and which party can better provide proper physical safeguards and supervision of the child;1
  3. Information related to any involvement of the child or parent/party with a criminal child abuse proceeding or with protective services (related to child abuse), including:
    • if the child has been the subject of an indicated or founded report of child abuse;
    • if either parent/party or a person living with either parent/party has been reported for child abuse (when the allegations were “indicated” or “founded”);
    • the details of the abuse, and where the abuse investigation took place; and
    • if a parent/party or a member of his/her household has been provided services through protective services and if so, the type of services provided, the date, and other circumstances surrounding the provision of services;2
  4. The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child;
  5. The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life;
  6. The availability of extended family;
  7. The child’s sibling relationships;
  8. The preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment;
  9. 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;
  10. Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child to meet the child’s emotional needs;
  11. Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child;
  12. How nearby the homes of the parties are;
  13. Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements;
  14. The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another; (Note: 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);
  15. The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or a member of a party’s household;
  16. The mental and physical condition of a party or a member of a party’s household; and
  17. Any other relevant factor.1

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5328(a)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A.
§ 5329.1