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The Basics of Pennsylvania Child Custody Law


Divorce is never easy, but it can get particularly sticky when there are children involved. When you are going through a divorce and your children’s future is in question, it’s important to be familiar with the laws governing child custody. Each state’s laws are different, so you’ll want to consult with a local Photo: Lee Flynnattorney on your specific case.

Factors the Judge Will Consider

Each state has its own criteria for deciding where a child will live in the event of his or her parents’ divorce. The laws in two states can differ greatly; Utah divorce attorneys may side more with the parents living situations whereas in Pennsylvania, the court takes the child’s preferences as a high priority. They consider the child’s right to determine which parent he or she lives with to be of high importance. They also seek to preserve and encourage a good relationship between the child and both parents. If one parent seems more likely to seek a solid foundational relationship with the child, as well as encourage a relationship between the child and the other parent, the court will look favorably upon this.

Previous criminal convictions or a history of drug abuse, meanwhile, will reflect negatively on a parent. Showing patterns of improvement over a long period of time can help improve matters, but even so, a criminal history will make it less likely that the court will rule in a parent’s favor.


Often, in family law cases, the court will require parents to attend counseling together before it decides how to determine custody matters.

Custody Arrangements

At the end of the custody hearing, the court will determine both physical and legal custody:

-Physical Custody. Most custody arrangements award physical custody to one parent while granting the other parent visitation rights. The child lives with the parent granted physical custody, and that parent provides day-to-day care for the child. A standard arrangement grants the non-custodial parent visitation rights on alternating weekends, every other major holiday, and a portion of summer vacation. During these times, the non-custodial parent has the right to exclusive time with their child, without the other parent present.

-Legal Custody. A parent with legal custody has the right to make long-term decisions about how the child will be raised. This includes issues such as where they will go to school, medical and dental decisions, and religious instruction. In most cases, even when one parent is awarded physical custody, both parents retain joint legal custody.

While courts generally prefer to grant joint legal custody to both parents, there are some cases where one parent is granted sole custody. It is typically in the best interests of the child for parents to retain joint or shared custody, but in circumstances such as abuse, drug addiction, and criminal behavior, they find it necessary to give sole custody to the other parent.

What if One Parent Relocates?

If one parent decides to move to another state, Pennsylvania law requires a special hearing to determine what will happen in custody matters. The court will listen to and consider factors including the reason for the relocation—as well as reasons the other parent may want to prevent the move—and the relationship the child has with each parent. If there are potential benefits to child’s life, should the move happen, the court will also take those into consideration.

Custody Agreements Between the Parents

In many cases, parents will come to an agreement on how they will handle custody without the court’s intervention. In these circumstances, they should submit, in writing, a thorough explanation of the arrangement. This stipulation should include the major points of the agreement, such as where the child will live the majority of the time, as well as smaller details, including where the child will attend each holiday, as well as birthdays, weekends, and vacation time. To make sure you haven’t forgotten anything and have everything properly recorded and filed, you should contact a family law professional who is familiar with Pennsylvania custody laws.

 Lee Flynn is from the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City, UT. After Lee spent years preparing himself, his home and his family, he decided he had to do more. In his free time, Lee helps educate those who want to do the same. Through small local workshops and articles, Lee trains and teaches others on home preparation, food storage techniques, wilderness survival and self reliance. After obtaining a bachelors degree from the University of Utah, Lee moved to the Salt Lake Valley where he now lives with his wife and daughter.


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City Photo: Lee Flynn