Factors family law judges in Pennsylvania must consider in a custody case – a basic overview

by Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.   5 minute read

Think about the facts of your child custody case and how the court will analyze your case specific facts, using the sixteen child custody factors as a lens. 

A few years ago, the Pennsylvania legislature enacted a new child custody law. An important part of the new law requires family court judges in Pennsylvania to consider at least sixteen separate

Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.
Jonathan C. Noble, Esq.

factors when ordering any form of custody. Not every factor will be relevant in every custody matter. If you are in the midst of a divorce or separation in Pennsylvania, and you cannot come to a custody agreement with the other parent of the child (or children) involved, you should familiarize yourself with the 16 custody factors. Family law courts in Pennsylvania must use the 16 factors contained in the new custody law to guide their custody decisions. The polestar consideration is, was and always will be “what is in the best interests of the child”.

Here below are the sixteen Pennsylvania child custody factors. Think about how your specific situation will be viewed by a judge using the custody factors as a lens. The custody factors may also be found under 23 Pa.C.S. §5328(a) in the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.

§5328. Factors to consider when awarding custody.  

(a) Factors — In ordering any form of custody, the court shall determine the best interests of the child by considering all relevant factors, giving weighted consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the child, including the following:

(1) Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.

(2) The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of a party’s household, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child.

(2.1) The information set forth in section 5329.1(a) (relating to consideration of child abuse and involvement with protective services).

(3) The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.

(4) The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life.

(5) Availability of extended family.

(6) The child’s sibling relationships.

(7) The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgement.

(8) The 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.

(9) Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing  relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs.

(10) Which party is likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child.

(11) The proximity of the residences of the parties.

(12) Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements.

(13) The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another. 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.

(14) The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household.

(15) The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.

(16) Any other relevant factor.

Again, with limited exception, these sixteen factors are the basic criteria by which a family law judge should make a custody determination in Pennsylvania. Only the judge can decide how much weight to give any one factor. Some factors can, and should carry more weight than other factors. Every case is different. Every judge is different. Factor sixteen (any other relevant factor) gives a court the wide range ability to look at any other relevant factors in your specific case. Conviction of certain criminal offenses will also be taken into consideration.

If the parents of the child can agree on a custody arrangement that meets the best interests of the child, without court intervention, that is usually the best scenario. Parents (and those who stand in loco parentis to the child) are normally in the best position to know what is truly in the best interests of their own child.

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