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How do Pennsylvania courts look at child custody?

Divorce, or the break-up of a long-term domestic relationship, is hard. This is especially true when the couple involved has children together. The thought of not being with the children on a day-to-day basis can be frightening for many parents. In many circumstances, however, residents decide that it is better for the children for their parents to no longer live together, than to remain in a bad situation.

When this occurs, it often leads to the state's family court system. As the parents attempt to figure out how to divide various pieces of property, they must also determine with whom the kids will live and how often the other parent will visit. As we have previously touched on, this process is called deciding 'child custody.' While there are a few types of custody, the main way a court will make a decision on how to divide such custody will be by what is in the 'best interests of the child.

As might be imagined, this standard is somewhat broad, and can encompass many factors. As such, there is, by design, no specific definition of, and no exhaustive list of elements to take into account when determining, the best interests of the child. However, Pennsylvania statute 5328(a) sets out some factors that may be considered when making this decision.

These can include some specific considerations such as whether one parent has a history of child or domestic abuse, or problems with alcohol or drugs. The list also contains some more subjective, generalized questions as well, like which parent is better able to provide for the emotional, developmental and physical needs of the child, and who is more likely to nurture a good relationship between the child and the other parent.

Other considerations include how far apart the parents live, the ability of each parent to arrange childcare when not at home, and the amount of conflict between the parties. In certain cases, the child's preference may be taken into consideration. It is important for Pennsylvania parents to note the last entry on the list, which is "any other relevant factor." This means that there is no way to know exactly how a court will rue in any given case, which may encourage parents to come to a child custody agreement between themselves.

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