Dad vs. Mom in Pennsylvania Custody Cases

In awarding child custody, Pennsylvania courts determine what is in “the best interest of the child” to make their decision. In the event that parents can not come to an agreeable arrangement for the court to adopt, family law courts will issue its own controlling order to settle the matter. The courts consider a number of factors that may affect the child’s physical, mental, emotional, and developmental well-being. Pursuant to Pennsylvania statute, court may not consider gender in their determination. This gender-neutrality provision was enacted to overcome favorable and unfavorable biases towards both genders and help ensure each parent has equal custody rights to their child.

Myth of Courts Preference for Mothers

Today, it is a common misconception that family law courts prefer mothers in custody battles. However, some argue that this idea that mothers always win custody wasn’t always a myth. Gender roles were different a few decades ago and parenting was considered to be the mother’s job.

During this period of time, fathers were the breadwinners who went to work everyday and mothers stayed home with the children. In the event the couple filed for divorce or separated, the mother would typically get custody as she was the one taking care of the children. When custody cases would go to family law court, judges viewed the mother as better suited for child raising. There was once even a policy of ensuring that the mother always received custody, called the “tender years” doctrine, which assumed that young children needed to be with their mothers in their early, developmental years.

Modern Day Roles

Fast forward to the present and you see both fathers and mothers as income earners. Fathers have also taken a more active role in parenting compared to the past and some are now stay-at-home dads. Laws such as the tender years doctrine no longer apply and the Judges have guidelines used to determine what is in the best interest of the children. These guidelines specifically state that the gender of the parent must not play a part in the decision of the court.

Pennsylvania Courts Prefer Joint Custody

The Pennsylvania family law courts prefer joint custody whenever possible. This is evidenced in the guidelines for primary custody that focus on the child maintaining a healthy relationship with both parents. PA family law courts consider the following factors when awarding custody, giving weighted consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the child:

  1. Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.
  2.  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.
  3.  The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.
  4.  The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life.
  5.  The availability of extended family.
  6.  The child’s sibling relationships.
  7.  The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment.
  8.  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.
  9.  Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs.
  10.  Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child.
  11.  The proximity of the residences of the parties.
  12.  Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements.
  13.  The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another.
  14.  The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household.
  15.  The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.

Child custody proceedings are emotionally difficult and can be legally complex. It is important that you find the right legal representation to protect your rights in order to maintain a close, healthy relationship with your child in order to give them the best future possible. At Tibbott and Richardson, our attorneys go above and beyond to ensure that you receive the best legal services possible to protect your rights and your relationship with your children.

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