In the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Child Custody is divided into two distinct categories: Physical Custody and Legal Custody. Physical Custody is the actual physical possession and control of a minor child. While, Legal Custody is the right to make important decisions that impact a minor child including decisions regarding education, religion and medical care.
Under Pennsylvania Law, in any child custody matter the best interest of the minor child is always the primary focus and determining factor. The Pennsylvania Legislature has codified sixteen (16) factors that courts are required to implement prior to making a determination of custody. The sixteen factors can be found at 23 Pa.C.S. § 5328 and are listed below.
§ 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:
(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 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.
(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) The 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 judgment.
(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 more 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.
(b) Gender neutral.--In making a determination under subsection (a), no party shall receive preference based upon gender in any award granted under this chapter.
The above provided factors must be utilized when a custody matter is litigated before a court; however, in many instances parents are able to negotiate, with the assistance of a competent attorney, a custody agreement that is in the best interest of the minor child or children. In the event that you find yourself in a custody dispute or want to make certain that you are negotiating on an even playing field contact Attorney Casey P. Mullen at his Pittsburgh office for a free consultation. Attorney Mullen will assist you in obtaining a Custody Agreement that is in your child’s best interest. Attorney Mullen has the skills to negotiate the best possible custody agreement for you and your child. Should a settlement not result from negotiations; Attorney Mullen is willing and able to fight to ensure that both you and your child’s interests are advanced and obtained.