If you live in Pennsylvania and you're in a child custody dispute, it's important to know the ins and outs of the state laws that are relevant to child custody. Child custody can be one of the most contentious and emotionally trying parts of family law.
Continue reading for a brief overview of the child custody laws in Pennsylvania.
Child Custody Laws in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania has child custody laws that address the determination of child custody, visitation, child support, and many other family law-related issues.
In awarding child custody, Pennsylvania courts determine what is in "the best interest of the child" to make their decision. If parents cannot present a suitable parenting agreement for the court to adopt, it will issue its own controlling order to settle the matter.
The courts consider a number of factors that may affect the child's physical, mental, emotional, and developmental well-being. These considerations may include:
- Family relationships
- Mental and physical condition of the parties
- The child's wishes
The courts, however, may not consider gender in their determination. Pennsylvania's child custody laws include a gender-neutrality provision to overcome favorable and unfavorable biases toward both genders and help ensure each parent has an equal custody right to their child. Regardless of gender, when both parents are found to be competent caregivers courts tend to award joint custody.
Once a court weighs the factors of a case, it will issue a custody order. This order will dictate both the terms of legal custody and physical custody in any custody arrangement.
In legal custody, parents share equal decision-making powers in all major decisions affecting a child's life, from those that relate to the healthcare concerns of the child to what schools the child will attend. Physical custody refers to parenting time, timesharing, and visitation -- all terms that relate to any time spent in person with a child.
The court must explain the reasons for its order either in open court or in a written opinion/order. If the court finds any ongoing risk of harm to the child or a party to the action, it will include safety requirements for the protection of those at risk in the order.
Visiting a Child
Pennsylvania recognizes parental contact and support as important for a child's development. Courts will try to grant at least some visitation rights to non-custodial parents in most situations. The statutes on domestic relations in Pennsylvania have incorporated the term "visitation" under the umbrella of child custody. So, "visitation" is now construed to mean:
- Partial physical custody
- Shared physical custody
- Supervised physical custody
Courts may include requirements for parents to satisfy in order to enjoy these custodial rights, such as drug tests prior to visits for parents with a history of drug or alcohol issues. However, courts will not prohibit visitation by non-custodial parents unless there is a serious safety issue, such as child abuse. Provisions for grandparents and great-grandparents to visit a child are also set forth by the statute.
Pennsylvania Child Custody Laws at a Glance
While there is value in reading the law as originally written in its statutory form, understanding the meaning is often easier when it's in plain English. This chart provides you with a helpful explanation of the factors determining child custody in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania Statutes Title 23 Pa.C.S.A Section 5328 (Factors to Consider when Awarding Custody)
Factors of Consideration in Ordering Custody
In ordering custody, courts will determine the best interests of the child by considering all "relevant factors". Factors affecting the child's safety will be given weighted consideration. Courts will also consider the child's wishes.
"Relevant factors" include the following:
- Sibling and extended family relationships
- The child's wishes
- Stability and continuity for the child
- Parenting duties performed by each party for the child
- Proximity of residences
- Whether one parent is more likely to attend the child's needs, maintain a loving and nurturing relationship, or turn the child against the other parent
- Any history of drug or alcohol abuse and the current mental and physical conditions of the parent and those in their household
- Any current or past abuse or risk of harm in the household
- Any other relevant factor
Pennsylvania Statutes Title 23 Pa.C.S.A.
Note: State laws are always subject to change through the passage of new legislation, rulings in the higher courts (including federal decisions), ballot initiatives, and by a variety of other means. While we strive to provide the most current information available, please consult an attorney or conduct your own legal research to verify the state law(s) you are researching.
Pennsylvania Child Custody Laws: Related Resources
If you're still confused, considering reviewing the following resources, as well:
Get Legal Help with Child Custody Issues in Pennsylvania
Child custody matters are never easy, either emotionally or legally. However, it's important that you protect your rights in order to maintain a close, healthy relationship with your child in order to give them the best future possible. If you think you may face or are already facing child custody issues, it's a good idea to get in touch with a skilled Pennsylvania child custody attorney who will be well-versed in the state's laws and can explain how they apply to your situation.