PA Custody Factors: 16 Child Custody Factors Courts Consider

Child custody factors in PA

Judges in Pennsylvania consider and closely weigh many elements when it comes to determining child custody for a divorcing family. For this reason courts will want to know as much as possible about the family dynamics, health and wellness of the parents, as well as their relationship with the children. Based on these findings, they will try to determine a fair arrangement that is in the best interest of the children.

If you’re looking for the best custody lawyers in PA, we can help.

Here are 16 PA custody factors courts consider when awarding custody:

  1. Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party? Courts want to know that the custodial parent will foster a positive relationship with the other parent. 
  2. Is there present and past abuse* committed by a party or member of the party’s household? Is there a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party? Which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child? (*Abuse as defined in section 6102 of the Protection From Abuse Act). Its of the highest importance that children live in a safe and healthy environment. Any record of abuse will be carefully weighed. 
  3. What are the parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child? The court will explore the roles that the parents have played in the life of their children. However, just because a parent hasn’t performed certain parental duties in the past doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of doing so in the future. 
  4. What is the need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life? It may be preferred to keep a child living in their current home or neighbourhood so that they remain near things familiar. 
  5. What is the availability of extended family? Being a single parent is challenging. If a parent has the assistance of extended family nearby, this could be a positive factor.
  6. What are the child’s sibling relationships? This will consider both blood relation as well as their emotional relationship to their siblings. Courts prefer to keep siblings together, if at all possible.
  7. What is the well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment? While children don’t have the ultimate decision, their opinion still matters and will be taken into account.
  8. Are there (or have there been) 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? Alienation of the children’s affections for the other parent is always a concern of the court. 
  9. Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child that is adequate for the child’s emotional needs? The court will consider the past relationship between the parent and children in evaluating this factor.
  10. Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child? Raising a child comes with a lot of responsibility; therefore, it’s vital the parent with custody is deemed responsible in these areas. 
  11. What is the proximity of the parties’ residences? Based upon how near or far each parent lives to one another, this could impact the custody arrangement or frequency of visitation.
  12. What is the availability of each party to care for the child or their ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements? For parents who work, it’s important that they can provide proper care for their child when they cannot be with them.
  13. What is the level of conflict between the parties? Is there a willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another, keeping in mind that 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? Shared custody is far more challenging — and may not be possible — if the two parties have a great deal of conflict or refuse to work together.
  14. What is the history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household? Any type of substance abuse is a cause for concern if a child would be residing with that parent.
  15. What is the mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household? For the safety of the child, parents must be physically and mentally capable of caring for and nurturing the child.
  16. What are any other relevant factors that should be considered? This is a catch-call category for anything else that could impact the health, safety, and emotional wellness of a child. Courts will work to uncover anything that could impact their decision.

Weighing The 16 Child Custody Factors In Pennsylvania

Of the numerous factors that impact a court’s decision on child custody, a significant consideration is the safety and welfare of the child. Courts will as well heavily weigh a history of physical or substance abuse. If that’s the case, it may require a separate evaluation before custody rights are granted to that parent.

Additionally, a parent’s ability to care for the child’s needs, both emotional and financial, is of high importance in a custody order. A child needs adequate supervision and support to ensure the greatest opportunity to thrive. Should a parent not have the capacity to reasonably and consistently meet these needs, it will impact their rights of custody.

Finally, the court wants to create an arrangement in which a child is most likely able to develop and maintain positive relationships with each parent. The court closely considers each parent’s willingness to work together in a co-parenting arrangement.

Related: Grandparents’ Child Visitation and Custody Rights in PA

How Colgan & Associates Can Help With Child Custody Matters in South Central Pennsylvania

Our family law attorneys are experienced in PA custody laws and stand ready to help you with your child custody matters. We have helped many families navigate this challenging landscape. Our experienced family lawyers know how to find solutions that work best for you and your family. Please contact us today for a no-cost, no-obligation free phone consultation so we may learn more about your matter and help develop a plan of action for your child custody case.

Schedule a consultation or call (717) 790-2048

Frequently Asked Questions About Child Custody Law in PA

What Is The Pennsylvania Child Custody Law?

Pennsylvania’s child custody law provides the factors the court must consider in deciding both legal custody (major life decisions) and physical custody (where the child resides). Examples of legal custody issues include medical, educational and religious issues. Shared legal custody occurs when both parents have the right to participate in these decisions and is common in Pennsylvania. Parents can equally share physical custody or one parent may be designated as the primary physical custodian. In this latter case the other parent has periods of partial physical custody.

Related: Child Support Law in PA

How is custody determined in PA?

In custody cases courts in Pennsylvania decide based on what is in “the best interest of the child”. If parents cannot settle an agreement for the court to adopt, it will issue its own controlling order.

Child Custody Types

Physical custody determines the time each parent is allowed to spend with the child and can be sole, primary, partial, shared (joint custody) or supervised. The primary physical custody refers to the arrangement where the child lives more than 50% of the time with one parent.

Legal custody is a parent’s decision-making authority over the child’s health, education, and welfare. It can be shared or primary. It refers to a parent’s right to share in decisions of major importance in the life of their child. Decisions that relate to the school a child will attend, medical care of a child and decisions about religion are all examples of legal sustody issues.

Legal custody is different from Physical Custody. A parent can have limited or no rights of physical custody and still share legal custody.

What makes a parent unfit in PA?

Any records proving mental or physical condition that makes the parent incapable of providing care for their child as well as criminal charges and drug use count as strong evidence to show that the parent is not fit to be awarded the custody.

At what age can a child decide which parent to live with in PA?

There are no specific laws that state a child’s age. The judges can take into account the child’s wish based on their maturity, and ability to reason. As we wrote about it in more details, “in a custody action, a child has a voice but not a choice.”


  1. Chelsey says:

    Who do we turn to in N.J. if Gloucester County Superior Courts sealed the drug test and Mental Health Records of the unfit father who lives in PA Section 8 housing with his mom where he’s not authorized to live. He also has neurodegenerative disease with all of the symptoms to the point he is unable to drive a car, care for himself, uses medical marijuana, has made threats pertaining to what he’s going to do to the child when she’s alone with him. His Pro Bono attorney blew this case up and has done every illegal thing she can to get him custody so she can have Percuinary Gain. She is a criminal!

  2. Brandi Schubert says:

    Glad that the kids have a right to put there input on who they feel safe in a separation in stead of who has more money!!!

  3. Ashlie Batten says:

    How do I get my kid out of an abouseive home if the child is started and lies

  4. Nimisha says:

    I am married for 13 yrs, have 2 kids, had arguments with husband and his visiting parents. He left home with them and 7-10 days passed. His whereabouts not known. My and kids text ms to him are not returned. Like to discuss my options and future action, child custody etc. Thanks

  5. RochellevTigue says:

    That's tied at Liberty tax 18505 I need Avis custody paperwork so I can file for her her voucher for school for $115,000 due to foster care in Scranton Pennsylvania for a certain amount of months and violence against her can you please fax them to Liberty tax Amy posting the factory 570-343-7008 the goal is to have a gratitude radioactive level is 15 Avery is already a sex he has not been around. Thank you touch her heart

  6. Evan Porter says:

    This was extremely useful and greatly appreciated. I still have questions and concerns, but it is late. I will be scheduling the free consultation as a result of this information. Again, this was extremely useful. Thank you, from a lowly struggling father in need of guidance.

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