Previously, judges in Pennsylvania used the best interests standard to make child custody determinations without outlining what would be considered relevant for making this determination. This left both a lot of discretion and ambiguity around the topic with each party throwing whatever they thought was relevant to the decision and judges using their discretion. In 2011, however, the law changed slightly -- even though the best interests standard was being followed, the law laid out what factors should be given weighted consideration.
There are now 16 factors that the courts are supposed to consider when deciding what is in the best interests of the child. Since it is important for children to maintain a healthy relationship with both parents, the court will look at which parent is more likely to encourage and permit a continuing relationship with the other parent and attempts to turn children away from one parent or the other. Additionally, they will look at the parental duties performed by each parent for their child and which parent is more likely to attend to the daily emotional and physical needs of the child. The ability make arrangements for childcare will also be considered.
The court also will look at the availability of extended family and the child's preferences, within reason. The mental and physical condition of the parents, and people in their household will also be considered. Alcohol, drug abuse or violence and sexual abuse will also be looked into. Another aspect the court will look into is the parties' willingness to cooperate with one another. In addition to those factors, the court can look into any other factor it considers relevant.
Since judges are required now to give reasons for their decisions, an experienced attorney can look into past decisions to determine the importance of evidence a parent might need to support their case. At the end of the day, everyone wants what is best for the child during a divorce, and having strong proof by one's side regarding the issue can only help the court make the right decision.