Divorce is rarely an easy process, particularly when there are children involved since very often child custody is a contentious issue. Nonetheless, with an experienced child custody attorney at your side, you have the best chance of obtaining sole custody of your child after your marriage is over. Gary R. Swavely, Jr., founding and lead attorney of The Law Office of Gary R. Swavely, Jr. has a 25-year history of skillfully practicing family law, and an excellent track record of successful outcomes.
Pennsylvania Child Custody Law
There are two kinds of child custody: legal custody and physical custody:
- Legal custody, which concerns the right to make major decisions about the child’s life, is almost always awarded jointly, unless one parent is considered unfit. This means that both parents will make decisions regarding the child’s healthcare, education, and religious practices.
- Physical custody, on the other hand, which concerns where the child lives, is often much more difficult for the court to decide, involving, as it does, a great many determining factors.
Optimally, parents will be able to agree on joint custody or sole custody of one parent with generous portions of visitation for the noncustodial parent. In too many cases, however, this doesn’t work due to ongoing tensions and arguments between the parents. This is where having a sharp child custody lawyer is invaluable. A knowledgeable professional will work hard and long to show the court why you are the right parent to be given custody of your child.
Factors the Court Uses to Determine Child Custody
First and foremost, the court focuses, as do you, on the best interests of the child. It is wise to know the factors the court will consider as you go into a child custody battle. These include:
Parent’s Ability To Care for the Child’s Needs (Physical, Emotional, and Financial)
This does not mean that the wealthier parent wins. Your ability to provide adequate housing and nourishment, healthcare, love, supervision, and support will all be evaluated. Because so many parents work full-time, childcare arrangements are also carefully considered. It is important to note that, while the court takes notice of which parent has assumed most parental duties in the past, it isn’t assumed that the other parent is not qualified to do so in the future.
Ability to Share the Child’s Time and Affection
Because alienation of the child’s affection for the other parent is always on the court’s radar, it is in your best interests not to make it difficult for your soon-to-be ex-spouse to spend time with the child. Exceptions to this caveat are tolerated if it can be proven that the other parent:
- Has been abusive of the child in the past
- Has a history of committing domestic violence
- Is likely to engage in dangerous or criminal behavior
- Is a current abuser of alcohol or drugs
Barring such evidence, the court is likely to give custody to the parent who is more cooperative with the other parent. In other words, the fewer harsh words you exchange, the better. Bad-mouthing the other parent to the child is never helpful.
Fitness as a Parent
The court will examine each parent’s capacity to engage in proper childcare, taking into account such things as physical/psychiatric health or incapacity, and incarceration or confinement to an institution. As noted, since the child’s health and well-being are paramount, any record of child abuse or domestic violence will be taken extremely seriously by the court. This includes emotional abuses — such as undeserved blaming, excessive criticism, denigrating language, intimidation, isolation, and lack of emotional support.
The court will want your child to live in an appropriate household. No matter how caring the parent, if a member of the household is an alcoholic, drug dealer, pedophile, for example, custody may be denied.
Stability and Continuity in the Child’s Life
It is usually considered in the child’s best interests to remain in a familiar, stable environment in which a support system already exists. If you will remain in the child’s current home, or will relocate nearby so that your child will still be in the same school, see the same friends, engage in the same extracurricular activities, this will likely be viewed as a positive. Access to extended family members — grandparents, siblings (including half-siblings and step-siblings), cousins, aunts and uncles — is also definitely a plus.
Although there is no specific law in Pennsylvania regarding at what age the child can make a choice about which parent to live with, the court is likely to be swayed to some degree by the voice of a child who much prefers to live with one parent rather than the other.
Give Yourself the Best Chance of Winning Child Custody in Pennsylvania
Nothing will make a bigger difference in obtaining child custody than having a compassionate, savvy child custody attorney on your team. Gary R. Swavely, Jr. will do all that he can to put your child safely in your hands and in your home.