How is child custody determined in Pennsylvania?

For many years, it was almost automatic that fathers received custody of children in a divorce. In the middle of the 20th century, that flipped and child custody often went to mothers while fathers received custody on holidays and weekends.

In recent years, judges go into child custody hearings with the mindset not to favor one parent or the other but to determine what is in the best interest of the child.

Specifics of child care in Pennsylvania

If parents can agree on a child custody plan, a judge will likely grant it. If parents can’t agree, the judge will conduct a custody hearing to determine:

  • Legal custody – the ability to make decisions about the child’s education, medical, religious and legal upbringing
  • Physical custody – the ability to maintain the child’s physical wellbeing

To determine child custody, the court will look at a group of factors including risk of harm to the child, the child’s need for stability and who can best meet the child’s needs.

During the hearing, the judge will consider:

  • Who can permit other contact between the child and loved ones
  • Any previous abuse and any continued risk of harm to the child
  • The child’s need for stability and continuity
  • The availability of extended family
  • The child’s wishes, depending on the child’s maturity
  • The child’s sibling relationships
  • The parent’s ability to communicate and cooperate
  • The parent’s ability to provide for the child’s emotional, physical, developmental and special needs
  • The proximity of the parents
  • Each parent’s ability to care for the child or provide child care
  • Any history of drug or alcohol abuse by the parent or a member of the parent’s household
  • Any other relevant consideration

Provisions for grandparents and great-grandparents to visit are also set by the judge.

By law, Pennsylvania forbids the court from considering gender in determining child custody.

The judge must explain the reasons for any decision regarding custody in open court.


FindLaw Network