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How do courts decide which parent gets custody after a divorce?

If you're considering divorce and have children, one of your biggest worries is how the divorce will affect your kids. Another is probably whether you will get as much time with your kids, and a third may be how to preserve the best possible relationship between your kids and their other parent.

Children do best when they have strong, loving and supportive relationships with both of their parents, so it's good to keep in mind that child custody isn't a win-lose proposition. It's best for them if you and your ex can work together well enough to cooperate. But how does it all work?

First, let's consider the basics. In Pennsylvania, the concept of child custody is divided into two major sections: physical custody and legal custody. Basically, physical custody covers each parent's right to be with and care for the child, while the concept of legal custody covers each parent's right to make decisions on behalf of the child concerning issues such as religion, education, healthcare and other areas requiring parental consent. In most cases, both parents will have some degree of each type of custody.

Are there specific rules about how custody should be divided?

Yes. Our courts try hard to make sure that these decisions aren't arbitrary, so there are a number of factors divorce judges are expected to take into account when awarding physical and legal custody. For one thing, Pennsylvania law requires that such decisions be gender neutral.

Here are some of the other specific factors the judge should consider:

  • Which party is more likely to:
    • Maintain a loving, nurturing, stable and consistent relationship with the child
    • Encourage and allow frequent, ongoing contact between the kids and the other parent
    • Attend to the child' daily physical, emotional, developmental and other needs
  • Which parent has typically performed parenting duties in the past
  • Each parent's ability to provide child care or make appropriate child care arrangements
  • Whether one parent is better able to promote stability and continuity for the children
  • The proximity of the parents' residences
  • The willingness and ability of each to parent cooperatively with the other
  • Whether one parent has tried to turn the children against the other
  • A history of drug or alcohol abuse or of mental illness by one or both parents
  • Prior abuse in the family
  • The expressed preferences of the children

There are others, but these factors can give you an idea of what the judge will look at. Your attorney should work with you to determine your child custody goals. Then, you will work together to develop a strong case for that outcome, including bringing forward specific evidence.

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Haller & Imbarlina, P.C.
20120 Route 19, Suite 208
Gigliotti Plaza
Cranberry Township, PA 16066

Phone: 724-935-0820
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Haller & Imbarlina, P.C.