Child custody battles can be one of the most emotionally charged experiences that a parent can encounter. When presented with a custody dispute, it is important to know that the court has a firm standard and an unmovable bottom line. When analyzing the evidence, accusations and testimony, that standard is this: What is in the best interest of the child?
It is not about you, or how you feel towards the other parent. It is not about who did what to whom, or whose fault it is. It is all about the children, and what is in their best interest. Too often, parties in custody disputes have a hard time separating from their emotion” their jealousy, their anger, their desire for revenge and hurt to really understand that unless their argument addresses why the issue is relevant to the best interest of the child, the court is not interested.
That being said, the best interest of the child is a fluid, subjective standard which depends upon the facts of your particular case. What is in the best interest of one child may not be so for another.
Pennsylvania courts are required to give "weighted consideration" to 16 "best interest" factors that affect the safety and well-being of the child. Furthermore, judges must provide reasons and the facts they relied upon in reaching their decisions. The 16 factors are:
- Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.
- 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.
- The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child.
- The need for stability and continuity in the child's education, family life and community life.
- The availability of extended family.
- The child's sibling relationships.
- The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child's maturity and judgment.
- 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.
- Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child's emotional needs.
- Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child.
- The proximity of the residences of the parties.
- Each party's availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements.
- The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another. A party's effort to protect a child from abuse by another party is not evidence of unwillingness or inability to cooperate with that party.
- The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party's household.
- The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party's household.
- Any other relevant factor.
Each child custody case is unique, and particular attention must be given to the above factors in determining how a court will most likely decide your particular case. However, it is imperative that you remember at the end of the day, it is not about you or the other parent. It is really all about your child.