What Factors Determine Child Custody?

Posted on June 17th, 2021

Many would agree that the worst thing about divorce is determining child custody. Save for some extreme circumstances, it’s better for children to have both of their parents in their lives. But some things are not meant to be, so we do the best we can for the children.

The goal of the Pennsylvania court system when determining child custody is to do what’s best for the children. No parent is favored based on gender or sex; by law, the Pennsylvania courts have to look at both parents equally. This means there are a set of factors that the court will use to determine child custody. They’ll start by deciding whether shared custody is possible and if not, then they will determine which parent is most capable of being the primary caretaker of the children.

Factor #1: Which parent is able to care for their children?

If one parent is unable to care for a child, the other will get sole physical custody. Outside of a history of abuse, this is the most important factor when deciding on child custody.

Determining whether or not a parent is capable of caring for a child more than another parent comes down to a few questions:

  • Are they physically or mentally capable of caring and nurturing the child? If one parent has any physical or mental disabilities but were able to care for a child with the help of a partner, that circumstance changes with a divorce.
  • Are they available to care for the child? In the case that one parent worked while the other stayed home or worked partial hours, the working parent would be less able to care for the child. At the same time, the non-working parent may not be able to provide for the child. If either parent has familial support from their extended family, the issues of being the working or non-working parent may be alleviated.
  • Are they willing to care for the child? As sad as it might be to consider, not all parents want to be parents. A court can’t make a parent be a parent or force custody on a parent who doesn’t want it. This makes the decision simpler on the court.

Factor #2: Is there a history of abuse?

The best option for children is always the safest option. A parent with a history of abuse of any nature against their children or spouse will not be seen as a suitable parent. The abuse has to be proven, but the court will have to consider any evidence.

At the same time, self-abuse plays a factor as well. If one parent is abusing drugs or alcohol, they can be deemed unfit to care for a child. If a parent has had a history of drug or alcohol abuse but is currently clean, the court will take into account how long ago this was and how likely the parent may be to relapse.

Factor #3: What is the relationship between the children and their parents?

A child cannot choose which parent they want to live with until they are 18. By this point they are a legal adult unless they appeal to the court to be emancipated. Emancipation has no strict guidelines or laws in Pennsylvania. This makes it different for every case for how possible and difficult it is to achieve. Otherwise, children cannot do more than give their preference and reasoning for it.

Children typically give their reasons to the judge for why they wish to live with one parent over the other. The attorneys of both parents are present, but the parents themselves are not. A court reporter must also be present to transcribe all questions and answers during the meeting. A judge may decide if the child is unfit to give why they prefer one parent over another.

The court will then typically use a child’s testimony to determine their relationships with each parent. They will also try to determine if one parent has attempted to turn a child against another parent. The court typically wants to give the parent closer to the children custody unless there are signs of parental alienation.

Factor #4: Where do both parents live or plan to live?

It’s important to determine where the child would be living with either parent. If one parent is planning to relocate, this can affect their ability to seek sole custody. The court does not want to uproot a child’s life, and moving them would do that.

If one parent plans to keep the residence the children currently reside in, or at least stay in the same area that the child was living in prior to the divorce, the court will prefer that. Though, should both parents be planning to uproot a child’s residence, this factor affects custody far less. It then becomes about which parent could more easily attend visitation than the other.

Talk to a Scranton Family Lawyer Dedicated to Your Custody Battle

Kalinoski Law Offices can and will dedicate our team to achieving your desired outcome for your case. We are an experienced family law firm able to preserve the relationship between you and your child.

We will thoroughly examine all of your options before we create a strong legal strategy that can meet your objectives. For more information, contact our Scranton, Dickson City, and Moosic family law firm for a free initial consultation.

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Craig Kalinoski
Craig Kalinoski

Craig P. Kalinoski is a respected attorney serving clients in Scranton, Pennsylvania. With a focus on Family Law, Criminal Defense, and Civil Rights, he has established himself as a top-rated legal professional. Recognized as a Rising Star and admired by peers, Craig's commitment to excellence sets him apart in the legal field.


We fight for the rights of our clients in a wide spectrum of practice areas, ranging from criminal defense to family law and personal injury.

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