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Pennsylvania Child Custody
Child Custody in Pennsylvania

According to Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, Title 23, Section: 5303, depending on the best interest of the child, the court grants sole custody or shared custody.

Pennsylvania child custody laws protect the welfare of the child. The courts try to reduce the emotional impact of divorce on children. When parents want joint custody, they should present a parenting plan or agreement that describes this and submit it to court. The plan includes information such as the child's residence and weekend and holiday arrangements. In this, as in other matters related to custody, the best interests of the child are paramount.

Courts encourage divorcing parents to plan how they will raise their child after divorce. Cooperation demonstrates a willingness and ability for continuing child support and care after divorce. If parents agree on child custody, they should produce a written stipulation. The stipulation should be specific and include agreements as to where the child will reside on weekends, holidays, and vacations.

In Pennsylvania, the courts have any number of custody arrangements. A court awards one or both parents sole or joint custody. At the court's discretion, the judge may award sole custody when it's in the best interest of the child, or joint custody when both parents request joint custody and have agreed to it and it is in the best interest of the child.

Legal custody means the legal right of one or both parents to make important decisions affecting their child, such as the child's education, health care and religious upbringing. Physical custody means one parent has physical control and custody of the child. Shared custody (which is also known as "joint custody" in other states) grants one or both parents shared legal or physical custody in a way that allows the child frequent and continued contact with both parents.

Moreover, Pennsylvania courts also use the term "partial custody," which is one parent's right to remove the child from a custodial parent's control for a period of time. Visitation permits one parent to visit a child, but does not allow the parent to remove the child from the custodial parent's control.

Unlike many states, the statutes of Pennsylvania include no specific best interest standard, except that courts apply it when making a custody determination. Typically, a court considers specific factors, such as:

  • the mental and physical health of the parents and child;
  • how well the child has adjusted to one home, school and community;
  • the ability of each parent to see to the child's well-being; and
  • in some cases, the desires of the child as to living arrangements, if the child is mature enough to express this information to the court.

In Pennsylvania, the terms "joint custody" and "primary custody" are not used. Pennsylvania recognizes legal custody and physical custody "Shared custody" is used in lieu of "joint custody" in Pennsylvania, and can refer to shared legal or physical custody (or both) of a child that ensures frequent physical contact with both parents.

A Pennsylvania court may require parents to undergo counseling prior to awarding custody. The court may consider the advice of counselors in determining whether to award joint or sole custody. As governed by child custody laws, the court considers:

  • the child's wishes or preferences as to custody, provided that he or she is mature enough to make such claims;
  • the child's relationship between his/her parents, siblings, and other members of the family;
  • the nature of the parent-child relationship;
  • the parents' wishes or preferences as to custody;
  • the parents' ability to encourage and allow frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent;
  • any history of domestic violence, child abuse, negligence, or substance abuse; and
  • the criminal record of a parent, if any.

In Pennsylvania, if one parent seeks to relocate to another state, the court considers:

  • the relationship between the child and the parents prior to the move;
  • the reasons why the non-relocating parent wants to prevent the move; and
  • the benefits to the child's life, if the court allows the move.

Mandatory Parenting Class

Pennsylvania courts often require all divorcing parents with minor children to complete a mandatory parenting class before granting a divorce. This requirement is designed to help parents and children deal with the trauma of divorce and separation. Unless the court grants a waiver, both parents must typically complete this requirement. Rather than give up an afternoon or evening taking your course in a crowded classroom, you can fulfill this requirement conveniently online at a very reasonable cost. We recommend you take Children in Between Online" to fulfill your court requirement and for the benefit of your children.

Joint Custody Preference

Pennsylvania law expresses a preference for parents to share as equally as possible in the custody of a child in a divorce case.

In Pennsylvania, it is preferable for parents to reach an agreement on child custody.

Pennsylvania family courts prefer arrangements where the parents share parental rights and responsibilities. With the child's well being in mind, the courts base their custody judgment on the best interests of the child. In some instances, parents are required to attend counseling sessions before custody is awarded.

The courts give importance to the parents' willingness to allow and encourage frequent and continuing contact between non-custodial parent and the child. Under child custody laws in Pennsylvania, the court awards sole custody when it serves for the child's best interests. Shared custody is desirable but not always plausible in cases where the child's welfare is at risk with one of the parents.

Third Party Custody

In some cases, a third party, or someone other than a child's biological parents, tries to gain custody of a child. Pennsylvania permits one or both grandparents to be awarded partial custody of a grandchild, or visitation rights, if one of the child's parents dies. The child must have lived with the grandparent(s) for more than a year, and there must be no contention between the grandparent and the child's parent(s).

Parental Conduct

In addition to finding a parent unfit because of substance abuse or abuse or neglect towards a child, the courts also consider the conduct of both parents during the course of the marriage, and the impact of parental behavior on the child.


The Pennsylvania courts have full discretion when determining visitation between children and parents. "Partial custody" is the right of one parent to take possession of the child from a custodial parent for a designated period of time. "Visitation" is the right of one parent to visit with a child, however, this right does not permit the parent to remove the child from the control of the custodial parent.

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