How child custody is determined in Pennsylvania

When people get married the expectation is that it will last forever. The unfortunate truth is that roughly half of marriages end in divorce. Divorce in itself can be a mentally strenuous, but it becomes even more contentious when there are children involved.

Child custody disputes have the potential to get ugly. Parents have the opportunity to provide the court with a parenting agreement and bypass the legal process. However, if they are unable to determine a settlement that both parties can agree upon, the court has to step in and resolve the custody dispute.

Best interest of the child

Child custody laws in Pennsylvania largely mirror the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act. The laws aim to address custody of the child, visitation time, child support payments and multiple other relevant concerns. Ultimately, the court makes determinations based on the best interest of the child. The court uses the following factors in order to decide custody of the child:

  • Family life
  • Stability and continuity
  • Parents’ mental conditions
  • Living situation and location
  • Wishes of the child

The court considers many factors to determine custody but places an emphasis on any factors that affect the safety of the child. Naturally, the goal in determining custody is to give the child the best opportunity to live a safe, healthy and happy life.

Types of custody

Physical custody refers to the physical possession and control of the child. A parent awarded physical custody will be the party that the child lives with. Physical custody has four specific types under its umbrella:

  • Primary
  • Partial
  • Shared
  • Visitation

Primary physical custody refers to the parent that child the child lives with on a daily basis. The court may also award a parent with partial physical custody, which refers to the parent’s right to take the child away from the primary caregiver for a set period of time. This typically refers to the parent who has the child for a couple nights during the week or weekends.

Shared custody is an agreement between the parents to alternate physical custody of the child. The goal of shared custody is to give both parents the opportunity to have regular contact with their child.

Finally, visitation refers to the right of one parent to visit the child at an agreed upon location. Visits usually include supervision, and the parent does not have the ability to take the child away from the visitation place.

In addition to physical custody, parents can receive legal custody of their child. This refers to the parent’s right to make significant decisions for the child, which may include but not limited to education, health and religion. Both parents typically receive legal custody to assure shared involvement in the decision-making process.


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