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Legal Information: Pennsylvania


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Laws current as of December 15, 2023

Who is entitled to seek custody?

The judge will make a custody order that s/he feels is in the best interest of the child after considering many factors.1 The following people may file for any form of physical custody or legal custody:

  1. a parent of the child;
  2. a person who stands in loco parentis (in place of the parent) to the child (Note: Non-parents with in loco parentis status will generally have performed the duties that a parent usually performs - such as being the primary caretaker - for a significant period of time);2
  3. a grandparent of the child who is not in loco parentis to the child but:
    • whose relationship with the child began either with the consent of a parent of the child or under a court order;
    • who assumes or is willing to assume responsibility for the child; and
    • when one of the following conditions is met:
      • the child has been determined to be a “dependent child” under 42 Pa.C.S. Ch. 63 (relating to juvenile matters);
      • the child is substantially at risk due to parental abuse, neglect, drug or alcohol abuse or incapacity; or
      • the child has, for a period of at least 12 months in a row, resided with the grandparent (not counting any brief temporary absences of the child from the home), and was then removed from the home by the parents – in this case, the custody petition must be filed within six months after the child is removed from the grandparent’s home;
  4. only in a situation where neither parent has any form of care and control of the child, anyone can apply if s/he:

    • has assumed or is willing to assume responsibility for the child; and

    • has a constant (sustained), substantial, and sincere interest in the welfare of the child. To evaluate this, the judge can consider factors such as the nature, quality, extent, and length of the involvement that this person has had in the child’s life.3

Also, grandparents and great-grandparents may file for partial physical custody or supervised physical custody even if they don’t meet the requirements above. For more information, go to I am the child’s grandparent or great-grandparent. Can I get custody?

1 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5323(a)
2 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5324; see, for example, T.B. v. L.R.M., 567 Pa. 222, 786 A.2d 913 (2001); S.A. v. C.G.R., 856 A.2d 1248 (2004)
3 23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5324