Pennsylvania Child Custody Attorney

Parents always have the ability to make their own agreements as to the custody of their children. This can be an informal agreement or a formal agreement which is incorporated into a final court order. However, when the parents cannot agree, a court must decide who will have custody of a child. In Pennsylvania child custody cases, the most important question facing the court is "What is in the best interests of the child?" This is such an important issue in Pennsylvania that when a judge does not believe that either parent can satisfactorily advocate on behalf of their child or chidren, or if a parent has self serving motives, the court can appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the interests of the child or children.

After a ten year process, Pennsylvania finally enacted a new Child Custody law which was effective on January 24, 2011. The "new" law applies to all child custody petitions filed on or after that date, while the old custody rules apply to cases filed before that date. Some provisions of the new law are actual changes; however, some seek to clarify and consolidate rules that had come into general practice by the courts.


Physical possession and control of the child. There are three (3) types of Physical Custody:

  • Primary: This refers to the party with whom the child resides most of the time
  • Partial: A party with partial physical custody may take the child away from the home of the primary physical custodian for visits, including overnight stays
  • Supervised Physical Custody: This was referred to as "visitation" under the former custody rules. It may permit a party to see the child in another location, but does not include the right to remove the child from the care of a person who has been designated as the supervising party


The right to make major decisions (such as educational, medical, religious) on behalf of the child.

Summary of the New Custody Law

The new law mandates that Pennsylvania judges consider specific key factors when deciding a child custody case and it permits courts to consider any other factor the court deem relevant. It explains how judges are to consider custody petitions by third parties such as grandparents and it requires judges to produce an opinion explaining the rationale for their custody decision. Judges can no longer just enter an order without explaining their ruling.

The filing provisions have also changed. Importantly, the new law permits parties to file a custody agreement with the court before a separation occurs so that it will become effective and be in place when the parties separate. The January 24, 2024 law also sets forth the ability of the court to require the parties to file a detailed parenting plan and a specific procedure that a custodial parent must follow before moving away from the geographical area of the other parent.

Custody determinations must be gender neutral. Among other factors judges must consider are the following:

  • Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party
  • Whether there was present and/or past abuse committed by a party or member of the party's household, and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child.
  • The parental duties performed for the child by each parent
  • The preference for stability and continuity in a child's life, including in education, family life and community life
  • Sibling relationships
  • The preference of the child, depending on the child's judgment and maturity
  • Any history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party's household
  • The criminal conviction and arrest record of a party or a member of a party's household
  • The mental and physical condition of a party or member of party's household

Modification of a Custody Order

It should be noted that child custody orders may always be modified by the court if it is deemed to be within the "best interests of the child" standard; changed circumstances is no longer the requirement.

Given the constant evolution of Pennsylvania child custody law, it is obviously of paramount importance that you consult with a dedicated and experienced family law attorney like Mary Beth Reinecker when faced with a situation that will involve determining the custody arrangement for your child or children.

Call the Law Office of Mary Beth Reinecker today at: (267) 702-3188 for a free initial consultation to learn how she can help you sort through your complicated family law matters and to discuss your options. You may also contact Attorney Mary Beth Reinecker using the form provided on this website.

*Evening and weekend hours are offered to accommodate your schedule as well her newest service, video conferencing from the comfort of your home or office!

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