Determining what is in the Best Interest of the Child
Navigating the court process for child custody seems daunting. The purpose of this article is to inform individuals involved in a custody dispute how the Courts evaluate child custody issues. Knowing how the courts evaluate these issues will enable you to adapt behaviors accordingly.
Courts have an underlying goal of fashioning a custody arrangement that is “in the best interest of the child.”To help guide them, Pennsylvania Courts evaluate sixteen (16) factors. Some factors focus on the past; some, however, help guide future behavior. The goal is to increase your chances of success, so that you may have the rights to your children that you deserve.
Even if you do not go before the Court, these factors are important in EVERY case. Although Parties may reach a custody arrangement on their own, that arrangement is often related to each parent’s ability to comply with the custody factors. We recommend keeping these factors in mind as you navigate this difficult process.
23 Pa.C.S.A. § 5328:
Factors to consider when awarding custody:
(a) Factors.– In ordering any form of custody, the court shall determine the best interest of the child by considering all relevant factors, giving weighted consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the child, including the following:
Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.
The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the 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.
The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.
The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life.
The availability of extended family.
The child’s sibling relationships.
The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment.
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.
Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs.
Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child.
The proximity of the residences of the parties.
Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements.
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.
The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household.
The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.
Any other relevant factor.
If you, or someone you know, is currently in the middle of a custody dispute, please keep these factors in mind. Focus on being the best parent or guardian that you can be. Also remember that the Courts like to see that you are making efforts to encourage a relationship between your child and others that have previously formed a relationship with them, such as the other parent, grandparents, etc.
Frederick S. Long, Esq.
Fred Long is the Managing Partner in the Estate Planning Department at Long Brightbill. He encourages clients to engage in dialogue among family and friends surrounding issues of death, dying, and incapacity.