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Court changes shared custody standard

Custody disputes are often difficult and complicated. Until recently, Pennsylvania family courts reviewed only four standards when making shared child custody decisions. Recently, however, a state appeals court changed the factors that local courts must consider when they rule on custody decisions.

Previously, the standards were based on a 1998 Pennsylvania appellate court case which directed courts to make four findings. Judges first had to decide whether both parents were fit, capable of making reasonable decisions on raising children, and had the willingness and ability to love and care for their children.

The second standard was that both parents showed an ongoing desire for an active role in their children's life. Next, the child had to recognize both parents as a source of security and love. Finally, there had to be a minimal possibility of cooperation between the parents.

The court refused to apply the standards set forth in the 1998 case in this recent appeal. In this 2018 case, the child's father appealed a family court ruling denying his request for child custody modification to allow shared custody. The local family court relied on 16 factors set forth in new changes to the state's custody law enacted in 2011.

According to that court, many of the 16 factors did not apply to this case or applied equally to both parents. However, the mother scored better with the four factors. Specifically, the father did not permit or allow the child to contact the mother. The father also attempted to turn the child against the mother and performed poorly on the level of conflict and cooperation with the mother.

The father appealed to the Superior Court and argued that denial of shared custody was against the best interests of the child and the court should have relied upon the earlier four-part test. The appeals court ruled against the father and found that Pennsylvania's 2011 law requires consideration of the 16 factors relied upon by the local court. Courts do not have to make specific findings on any factor before awarding shared custody.

If a parent finds themselves in a fight for custody of their children, a family law attorney can help them gather evidence and support their position in a custody proceeding. They can help ensure that a custody decision is fair and is in the child's best interest.

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