On January 24th of this year, child custody law in Pennsylvania changed. Previously, child custody disputes where decided by a judge based upon the “best interests of the child” standard. This broad standard gave litigants, counsel and judges broad discretion in deciding what facts and factors constituted “best interests.” The new law helps focus the best interest inquiry and will aid in removing personal biases of judges, create more uniformity in decisions, and allow for better reasoned and more child-centric custody decisions.
Starting January 24th, the court must now “give weighted consideration” to the following 16 “best interest” factors:
- Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party
- The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of a party’s house-hold, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision
- The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child
- The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life
- The availability of extended family
- The child’s sibling relationships
- The well-reasoned preference of the child
- The attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent
- Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs
- Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child
- The proximity of the residences of the parties
- Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements
- The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another.
- The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household
- The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household
- Any other relevant factor
Additionally, under the new law Judges must provide the reasons and facts they relied upon in reaching their decision. These changes should provide greater predictability and uniformity in custody disputes throughout the state.