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How courts determine the best interests of the child

When Pennsylvania parents are getting a divorce and cannot reach an agreement about child custody and visitation, they might have to take the matter to court. A judge makes a decision about child custody based on the best interests of the child. This involves taking a number of factors into account.

A court will prioritize a child's safety above all and will not place the child in a custody situation that does not appear to be safe. The court looks at each parent's physical and mental health and their ability to provide for the child. This means being able to give the child things like food and shelter as well as offering emotional support, access to education, and general parental guidance. Younger children may be particularly bonded with one main caregiving parent while older children may want input into the arrangement. A judge will also consider how disruptive any given arrangement might be to the child. Keeping the child's schedule as consistent as possible is a priority.

Enrolling a child in school, attending extracurricular activities, and participating in parenting decisions are all ways to demonstrate to a court that a parent has a child's best interests in mind. Only rarely will a court agree that blocking access to the other parent or relocating are in the child's best interests.

A parent who is concerned about the child's safety with the other parent may want to talk with an attorney about how to proceed and what evidence to present in court. However, unless there are extenuating circumstances of this nature, parents may want to try to reach a child custody agreement outside of the courtroom with the help of their respective attorneys. This can be less stressful and expensive and might lay the groundwork for a more functional co-parenting relationship after the divorce.

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