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Seeking Custody of a Minor in Pennsylvania? Here’s What to Expect

by | Feb 20, 2024 | Child Custody, Family Law, Legal Process

Pursuing custody of a child is a rather emotional and involved legal process. With various procedures to follow and a number of different “hoops” to jump through, failure to file the proper documentation and/or lack of adherence to local court rules could result in your matter not being properly filed or, even worse, dismissed in its entirety. While this is true in any number of legal jurisdictions, it’s especially relevant in the Pennsylvania court system, and in today’s blog we’ll review the basics of a child custody case in that state.

The basic framework of a custody case

Whether filing a petition for custody, a modification of a custody order, or a petition for special relief, hiring an experienced attorney is the number one way to ensure that your order is properly prepared, filed, and served to the opposing party. Once the desired petition is served to the opposing party, a conference date is typically provided for the parties to attend, along with their respective counsel, to attempt an amicable resolution to their custodial matter. If the conference is unsuccessful, a hearing will be scheduled before a judge.

Experienced counsel will prepare you for the trial, and you’ll work with them to determine potential witnesses and evidence that will hopefully enable the presiding judge to make a ruling in your favor. This ruling is based on the judge’s interpretation of the child’s “best interests” and, more specifically, whether they’re better off spending the majority (or all) of their time with you or the other party. During the trial, the judge will listen to all testimony and consider sixteen distinct factors in making his/her decision. These factors are formally defined by Pennsylvania law, and we’ll cover each factor in detail in the following section.

Factors to consider when awarding custody

(a) Factors.–In ordering any form of custody, the court shall determine the best interest of the child by considering all relevant factors, giving weighted consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the child, including the following:

(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, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child.

(2.1) The information set forth in section 5329.1(a) (relating to consideration of child abuse and involvement with protective services).

(3) The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.

(4) The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life.

(5) The availability of extended family.

(6) The child’s sibling relationships.

(7) The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment.

(8) 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.

(9) Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs.

(10) Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child.

(11) The proximity of the residences of the parties.

(12) Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements.

(13) The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another. 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.

(14) The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household.

(15) The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.

(16) Any other relevant factor.

23 PaCS 5328 (a) (1-16)

When in doubt, speak to an attorney.

While you can access all kinds of information on custody cases by doing your own online research, it’s best to avoid taking such a risk with an actual legal matter, especially one involving your child or another minor. Consult an experienced attorney with years of practice who’s willing and able to assist you with your unique matter. Here at JC Law, we have a dedicated domestic team with decades of combined family law experience at their disposal. We stand ready, able, and willing to fight for you and your family.

Give us a call at (888) JCLAW-10 to speak with one of our experienced family law attorneys in a free one-on-one consultation, or click here to schedule your consultation at your convenience.

Remember, here at JC Law we aren’t just your attorney. We’re your legal ally.