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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Kelly Associates

How is Sole Custody in PA Determined?

How to Gain Sole Custody in PA

Gaining sole custody in PA is uncommon. But some unique situations make this parenting arrangement necessary. Typically, that involves establishing that one of the parents is unfit and that sharing custody is not in the child's best interests. Other considerations include the child's emotional and financial needs. PA family courts weigh several factors in making those vital determinations.

How is custody determined in PA?

Child custody laws in PA are designed to determine what's best for the child's growth and development. The default position is to have both parents involved in raising their children. That usually means sharing legal custody and negotiating physical custody arrangements that benefit the child.

Legal custody

Legal custody addresses the rights of the parents when making crucial decisions about how to raise their child. That involves choices on education, religion, health, and legal matters. Courts usually want parents to make those decisions together. But you may be awarded sole legal custody if your former partner is unable or unwilling to parent your child safely and effectively.

Physical custody

Physical custody addresses where your child lives and with whom. It also deals with shared parenting time, visitation, supervised visitation, and other custody arrangements. If there are no safety concerns, a PA family court will likely order some form of shared physical custody.

Considerations for Child Custody in PA

Family law judges review many factors when deciding how to rule in contested child custody cases. Some examples include:

  • Current living arrangements and any recognized need to maintain stability within the child's community

  • How willing each parent is to maintain a positive relationship between their ex and their child

  • Evidence of a parent attempting to alienate the child from their other parent

  • Conflict between the parents

  • Prior parenting duties on a day-to-day basis

  • Prior relationship between the child and parent and demonstration of healthy emotional and psychological support through responsible parenting

  • Geographic location and physical closeness of the parents' residences

  • The child's special needs, if applicable

  • Sibling relationships

  • Extended family relationships

  • The child's stated preference, if any

  • Physical and mental capacity of the parents to care for the child

  • Any established domestic violence, abuse, or neglect

  • Any evidence of substance abuse

  • Other relevant factors as deemed pertinent by the court

The court looks at these factors individually and wholly. The goal is to support a beneficial ongoing, loving relationship between the child and both parents. But the custody order must prioritize the child's safety and well-being, especially when there is evidence that either parent may be unfit.

When May Sole Custody in PA be Ordered?

These days, sole custody is the exception rather than the norm. There must be a compelling reason to override the court's tendency to award shared custody in PA. But suppose your former partner has exhibited some of the following behaviors or potential risks. In that case, a court may award you sole custody.

  • Your ex cannot provide the child's basic needs, like food or shelter, when in their care

  • History of violence, physical abuse, or substance abuse

  • Neglect or abandonment

  • Past non-physical harmful behavior, such as emotional or psychological abuse

  • Prior efforts to destroy your relationship with your child

  • They live in a dangerous environment or expose your child to unsafe people and situations

  • Unsafe, unpredictable behavior when the child is in their care or refusal to comply with court orders and established custody arrangements.

Reach out to the Law Offices of Matthew Kelly Associates if you are struggling with a custody issue in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Schedule a free consultation to learn more about your rights.


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