What Are Child Custody Laws in Pennsylvania?

The facts on custody arrangements, counseling, and relocation

Father buckling son in car seat
Roberto Westbrook / Getty Images

If you're going through a breakup in Pennsylvania and there are children involved, it's important to know the child custody laws in the state. The same suggestion applies if you and your former mate split up a while ago but need a new parenting arrangement because one of you have moved, remarried, or otherwise had a major life change. Perhaps the need to revisit custody isn't about either parent per se but about the child's wish to live with one parent full time or another relative entirely.

A court in Pennsylvania considers several factors in determining child custody. There, it is preferable for parents to reach an agreement on child custody. However, if the court must decide because the parents have a contentious relationship or both want full custody, a Pennsylvania court will consider the best interests of the child in a custody determination. ​

Counseling and Custody 

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. Many things will be discussed at the counseling sessions, including the responsibilities that go along with sole and shared custody.

Preferences for Child Custody 

In Pennsylvania, the court will consider the following factors when determining child custody:

  • The child's preferences
  • Which parent is more likely to encourage or facilitate a relationship with the child and the child's other parent
  • Any past or present history of abuse
  • Criminal convictions

Pennsylvania Parenting Arrangements

In Pennsylvania, a court will award one or both parents sole or joint custody:

  • Sole Custody - The court will award sole custody when it's in the best interest of the child.
  • Joint Custody - A Pennsylvania court will order joint custody of a child when it's in the best interests of the child, and:
    • Both parents request joint custody
    • Both parents have agreed to joint custody, or
    • At the court's discretion

Child Custody Agreements

If parents agree on child custody, they should produce their agreement in writing by completing a written stipulation. The stipulation should be specific and include agreements as to where the child will reside on weekends, holidays, and vacations.

Relocation and Child Custody in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, if one parent seeks to relocate to another state, the court holds a special hearing to determine whether the parent is permitted to relocate with a child. During the hearing, the court will consider factors such as the relationship between the child and the parents prior to the move or the reasons why the non-relocating parent wants to prevent the move. The court will also consider the benefits to the child's life if the move is permitted.

For more information about child custody in Pennsylvania, speak with a qualified attorney in the state or refer to the Pennsylvania Domestic Relations Code.