When parents divorce, they usually want equal access to their children and equal say when it comes to major decisions regarding the child’s upbringing, including those involving medical treatment, religion and education.

So who exactly decides whether parents get to share custody of their children more or less evenly or not? Ideally, the parents will come to that decision on their own.

If they can’t reach an agreement, however, the decision will end up in a judge’s hands. Under Pennsylvania’s law, the judge is required to consider the “best interests of the child.” To do that, the judge must consider 16 factors, including:

  • Each party’s ability and willingness to encourage the child’s relationship with the other parent
  • Present and past abuse by either parent or a member of their household and any continued risk of harm to the child
  • What parental duties each party performs for the child
  • How much stability the child needs and how much each parent can provide
  • How available extended family members might be in any situation
  • The relationship a child has with their siblings and how those would be affected
  • The child’s own preferences, depending on their age and maturity
  • The level of conflict between the parents and their ability to set those conflicts aside
  • Any history of drug abuse or alcoholism by either parent or someone in their household
  • Each parent’s mental and physical health and the mental and physical health of others in their households

Because these factors are so broad, any hard-fought custody battle is likely to be fraught with uncertainty. Make sure that you have an experienced attorney representing you from the start.