In Pennsylvania, courts take a number of factors into consideration when determining which parent will be awarded primary physical custody, if the custody will be jointly shared and whether legal custody will be joint or solely held by one party. In making the decision, judges always keep in mind what is in the best interests of the child or children involved. Courts give added weight to any relevant factors that potentially affect the safety of the child or children.
The relevant statute directs judges to consider several things. Courts look at whether one party is more likely to encourage the child's continued contact with the other parent, any past or present history of child abuse or domestic violence, the role each parent has taken on behalf of the child and the child's need for continuity at school and within the community. Additional factors courts consider include the child's extended family, the relationships a child enjoys with his or her siblings, the child's own preferences if the child is old enough to make the choice and any attempts of one parent to alienate the child from the other parent except in cases of domestic violence.
More factors judges look at include whether one parent is more likely than the other to assist the child with their educational and other daily needs, any drug or alcohol abuse on the part of a parent, the conflict level between the parents and how closely they live to one another. Courts do not give preference to one party based on gender. Certain types of criminal convictions will also factor in when courts make the custody determination.
A family law attorney who has experience in child custody cases can assist a client by attending hearings, filing documents and gathering needed evidence regarding the relevant factors. These attorneys will take into account the factors courts consider in advising their clients appropriately.
Source: legis.state.pa.us, "Chapter 53 Child Custody", September 30, 2014