There was once a time not so long ago when the courts would typically assign primary custody to one parent from a divorcing couple. There were many different reasons that this became the standard, but one of them was the intention to reduce the strain on children in the wake of a divorce.
More psychological and sociological research has been done over the last few decades that has shown that alienating children from one parent could cause more damage than the schedule disruptions caused by fully shared parenting responsibilities. As a result, courts across the United States have moved toward a standard that focuses on the best interest of the children, including the maintenance of both parental relationships.
If you are in the process of obtaining a divorce in Pennsylvania, it is very likely that you have concerns about the outcome of child custody proceedings. Understanding how the state courts address custody issues can help you prepare for the most likely outcome in your case.
The courts want to focus on the best interests of your children in custody decisions
While you may have strong feelings about your preferred custody outcome, the courts have a different focus. Of course they want to uphold the parental rights of as many parents as possible, but their primary focus is always on the children.
All custody decisions in Pennsylvania need to use the best interest of the children as the guiding consideration. In the majority of cases, these best interests involve maintaining relationships with both parents in the wake of a divorce.
Courts have begun to allocate custody and parental responsibilities more evenly between both parents. Shared custody may be difficult for the adults, but the courts will help you create a comprehensive parenting plan that outlines how to effectively share your responsibilities.
In certain cases, one parent may still receive primary custody
It is important to understand that each custody case is unique. While the courts clearly want to preserve as many parent-child relationships as possible, they must also look at the specifics of your marriage and family situation. In certain scenarios, the courts may choose to assign primary custody to one parent while relegating the other to visitation.
One common reason that courts give one parent custody over the other is a history of spousal or child abuse. So long as there is either legal documentation, such as police reports, or medical documentation of the abuse, the courts will often reduce the rights and custodial time of the parent with an abusive history.
Addiction is also a concern for the courts. If one parent has a documented history of drug or alcohol abuse, the courts may not determine that shared custody is best for the children. Finally, in a scenario where one parent has a very unstable living situation, whether they live in a shared housing unit or cannot keep gainful employment, the courts may award custody to the parent whose life situation is more stable.
There are many considerations that affect how the courts handle custody cases. Carefully reviewing your situation and Pennsylvania law can help you work toward the best possible custody outcome for the children in your family.