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Home > How Custody Is Determined in Pennsylvania

How Custody Is Determined in Pennsylvania

By Ashley B. Stitzer, Esquire

custody ID 118780032 © Publicdomainphotos | Dreamstime.comWhen a marriage or relationship is dissolving, parents’ primary concern is custody of their child. ­Unfortunately, custody issues can easily become overwhelming and combative resulting in significant distress to the parents as well as the children. If parents are unable to reach an agreement regarding custody decisions for their child, a custody action may be commenced for determination by a Court. Below is an overview of the types of custody in Pennsylvania and considerations by the Court when determining an award of custody.

There are two types of custody in Pennsylvania:

  • Legal custody is the right to make major life decisions for the child, including medical, educational and religious decisions. A party may be awarded sole legal custody or shared legal custody, although the latter is most commonly awarded.
  • Physical custody is the right to assume actual physical possession and control of the child. Various types of physical custody may be granted by the Court, including shared physical custody, primary or partial physical custody, sole physical custody and supervised physical custody.

In Pennsylvania, the Court determines an award of custody based on the best interest of a child after consideration of all relevant factors. Particular consideration is given to factors that affect the safety of the child and the gender of a parent is not a consideration.

Factors considered by the Court when determining custody include:

  • Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.
  • The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child, including meeting the physical, emotional and social needs 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, based on the child’s maturity and judgment.
  • 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.
  • 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. 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.
  • 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.
  • Consideration of conduct leading to the conviction of certain criminal offenses and whether the party poses a threat of harm to the child.
  • Information relating to child abuse and/or involvement with protective services.
  • 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.

If you are considering filing for custody or have been named as a defendant in a custody action, it is important to understand the law and its application with respect to your child. To schedule a consultation, contact Ashley B. Stitzer at (610) 840-0243 or [email protected].


CustodyAshley B. Stitzer is a family law attorney representing men and women in all aspects of family law matters, including divorce, alimony/spousal support, equitable distribution, and property division, marital agreements, child support, and child custody. From custody disputes and support issues to complex divorce and property division, Ashley takes a direct, personal approach to resolve each client’s family law concerns and prides herself on being thorough, passionate and laser-focused on her clients’ needs.