United States: Obtaining Sole Custody In PA

Last Updated: June 28 2019
Article by Karen Ulmer Pendergast

When determining custody arrangements in Pennsylvania, judges must hold to the standard of "best interests of the child." Recognizing that children develop best when they have positive relationships with both father and mother, judges do not award sole custody without very strong evidence that this is best for the child.

Sole physical custody means the child lives with one parent only, although usually the other parent will have visitation rights. Sole legal custody means that one parent has complete authority to make decisions in the best interests of the child.

If you want to receive sole custody in PA, the burden is upon you to prove that it would be detrimental to the welfare of your child to live with your ex, even part-time. You will do best to discuss this with an experienced family lawyer to help you develop your case and avoid common mistakes.

Reasons for sole custody

The court will look at all factors impacting a child's welfare: physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, psychological, and moral. The judge may also consider the child's preference, the custody of siblings, relationships with extended family, and the primary caregiver prior to the separation.

Some considerations you may need to demonstrate to the judge:

  • Ways in which the other parent is unfit - history of violence, substance abuse, neglect
  • An unhealthy environment in your ex's home or neighborhood - friends or significant others who come to your ex's home and who pose a threat to the child; bad neighborhood; unhygienic environment
  • Other parent's inability to provide - the child eats poorly when with the ex; ex has too little income to support the child
  • Physical or psychological harm to the child - history of physical or emotional abuse or manipulation; immoral behavior; lack of structure or discipline when the child is with the other parent; trying to damage the child's relationship with you
  • Lack of involvement - the other parent has shown no interest in the child's activities, school results, etc.
  • Erratic behavior when with child - refusing to allow you contact with your child; not following agreed-upon pick-up times; taking the child out of school or away without your knowledge

Keeping records and taking action

You will need documentation and witnesses to support your claims. There are legal and illegal ways of obtaining evidence, so it's important to talk to an expert to help you do this.

When you feel you have a case, you will need to file a complaint in the court of the county where the child resides and complete other paperwork required by that county. Your ex will then need to be served the papers. This means he or she will have to physically take the papers in hand. With an uncooperative ex, it is sometimes necessary to call on an expert who knows how to hand deliver papers and get your ex to take them. After this, a conciliator may try to get both parents to work out an arrangement. If this does not lead to an agreement between parents, you may request a trial before a judge.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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