How does the court determine what is in the children’s best interest in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania, under our statute, there are 16 factors that the court will investigate when making a custody determination. One of those factors are the parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child. That means looking at what each parent does for the child or the children, and what is in the children’s best interest. Another factor is the need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life. It looks at what we call the status quo of the child; trying to keep the child in a similar situation that they were in before the parties divorced. Another factor is – because we’re always asked whether the children have any input – in-fact, the well-reasoned preference of a child, based upon that child’s maturity and that child’s judgment. There’s no magic age as to when the child’s input would be taken by the court, but it’s based upon his or her maturity and how they state their preference to the court. So yes, it is one of the factors.
This recent statute, which was implemented about two to three years ago in Pennsylvania, is which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent contact between the child and the other parent. Therefore the courts look at who is trying to make sure that the child continues to have a good relationship with the other parent. And that is a real turn in our custody law that wasn’t there before. These are the four factors that are extremely important when presenting your case to the court. Depending upon your situation you’re going to emphasize those factors that are important and where you think there’s a difference between one party and the other party.
David L. Ladov is a partner and co-chair of the Family Law Group at Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP. He focuses his practice on divorce, including custody, child support, equitable distribution, abuse and domestic relations. David can be reached at (267) 675-4976 or [email protected].
Robert Whitelaw is a managing partner and co-chairman of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP’s Litigation Department and Family Law Group. He has 40 years of experience in practicing family law. Robert can be reached at [email protected] or (215) 665-300.