Child custody is an important issue in divorce, and typically the most important issue for divorcing parents. One of the challenges parents can face in child custody proceedings is that the mode of advocacy is different than it is for financial matters. Whereas financial disputes in divorce are aimed at representing the rights and interests of each spouse against the other, child custody is not primarily about either of the parents.
The most important factor in any child custody case is the best interests of the child. Assuming there are no challenges to parental rights, the court is primarily going to be considered with making sure the custody and visitation arrangement is best for the child. And what is best for the child is not always what the parents want.
Under Pennsylvania law, there are a variety of factors courts take into consideration when making child custody determinations. These include:
- The need for a stability and continuity in education, family life and community life
- The child’s relationship with siblings
- Each parent’s willingness to encourage and allow the child’s ongoing relationship with the other parent
- The parents’ ability to meet the child’s emotional needs
- The proximity of the residences of the parties
- The mental and physical condition of the parties
- Any history of alcohol abuse and domestic abuse
Of greatest importance are factors affecting the safety of the child, though all relevant factors are to be weighed appropriately. Judges have wide discretion in making decisions based on these factors, though not absolute discretion.
In our next post, we’ll look at the role an experienced attorney can play in child custody proceedings to help a parent build the strongest possible case.