Child custody decisions in divorce cases in Pennsylvania focus on what is deemed to be in the best interests of a minor. In an effort to ensure better reasoned and more uniform decisions by judges in regard to child custody issues, a set of best interests factors are to be considered by a judge in a divorce proceeding. The applicable law enumerates over 15 of these child custody factors that a judge is to focus on when rendering a decision pertaining to child custody.
Encouraging Contact with Child
A key factor to be considered in a custody decision is which of the parents is most apt to encourage regular and continuing contact between a child and a noncustodial parent. A child’s best interests are optimized when he or she is able to maintain consistent and healthy relationships with both parents, both during and after divorce proceedings.
Child Custody Factors: Family Relationships
A number of other factors to be considered by a judge include a child’s relationship with siblings and maintaining suitable access to extended family members. A custody order needs to recognize these factors and advance rather than impede these other types of family relationships.
Capacity of the Parents
A number of factors focus specifically on the parents. These include a consideration of the overall mental and physical health of each parent. In addition, the factors include which parent is best suited under the circumstances to provide appropriate care for the child. A judge will look at whether a parent has or had an issue with drug or alcohol abuse and whether or not a parent ever engaged in abusive behavior. A judge also examines the level of conflict that may exist between the parents and how well they are able to cooperate with one another.
The Child’s Desires
Pennsylvania law does permit a judge to consider a child’s preferences in some cases and to some degree when it comes to making a custody determination. The governing law references the “well-reasoned preferences” of the child. In other words, a child must have the capacity to indicate a well-reasoned preference. Moreover, the preference indicated by a child must in and of itself prove to be reasonable under the facts and circumstances of a particular case.
Enumerating Child Custody Factors
A judge is required to enumerate which specific factors were utilized in reaching a decision regarding custody. A judge must set the facts relied upon to make the decision and how they relate to the specific factors associated with the best interests of the child.