On April 14, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at the 6th Annual Chester County Single Mother’ Conference at Henderson High School in West Chester. The free conference was devoted to encouraging, educating and empowering single mothers in their role as sole provider for the family. More than seventy (70) exhibitors and speakers provided resources and activities including workshops, clinics and demonstrations on parenting, self-defense, custody, child support, finances and more. The conference was organized by the Chester County Community Collaborative in partnership with the Chester County Women’s Commission.
While the conference was dedicated to single mothers, my presentation on custody applies equally to mothers and fathers. In fact, in Pennsylvania, the custody statute specifically states that in making a custody determination, no party shall receive preference based upon gender. In other words, despite popular belief, mothers do not automatically “get” custody. So, what do the Pennsylvania courts consider? In ordering any form of custody, the court “shall determine the best interest of the child by considering all relevant factors, giving weighted consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the child.”
Against the backdrop of the best interests of the child, the courts are required to consider the following sixteen 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 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.
- 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, 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 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.
Are you wondering how these factors weigh for or against you? If you are a parent and have questions about custody and the sixteen factors, please contact OWM’s Family Law Department to schedule your free one-half (½) hour consultation.