If parents are unable to reach an agreement on custody of their children, a judge will hear all relevant evidence in your case and make a decision as to what custody schedule is in the best interests of the child. In ordering any form of custody, the judge is required consider the following factors, while giving weighted consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the child. when making an award of custody:
- 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.
23 Pa. CSA §5328.
Custody litigants should categorize their evidence in accordance with these 16 factors. The court will also want to know about each party’s work schedule, home environment, parenting skills, and any concerns you have about the overall custody situation.
Each party will have the opportunity to present evidence to the judge by offering testimony and physical evidence. The court will want to hear from each of the parents and perhaps relevant caretakers. However, the court will not want to hear from multiple witnesses who would testify about duplicative information. Keep in mind that no party may testify to hearsay unless a hearsay exception applies. Copies of text messages, Facebook posts / messages, and e-mails between the parties can be very helpful in some cases but you cannot introduce documents signed by someone who is not in court unless the Pennsylvania Rules of Evidence permit you to do so. Likewise, it is recommended that a parent provide the Court with a few pictures to show the child’s living environment.