In the state of Pennsylvania, custody of a minor child is based on 16 different factors. These factors were established in August of 2012 in the state’s new Child Custody Act, which states that “In ordering any form of custody, the court shall determine the best interest of the child by considering all relevant factors, giving weighted consideration to those factors which affect the safety of the child.” The law then goes on to list the 16 factors, which range from which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party, to present and past abuse. Though the law was written with the assumption that all factors would be weighed, there are some instances where the court may be unduly swayed by a specific factor, and this can impact the decision in a way that one of the parents believes is unfair. When this happens, the best response is either to appeal the court’s child custody decision or to seek a modification of the order.
It is important to remember that when filing an appeal of a child custody decision, the most common argument is that the court abused their discretion. This argument is based on the notion that the court’s decision was based on something outside of the evidence and testimony that was presented to them. The 16 determining factors are not weighted for importance, so the court is supposed to use their best judgment. It is only the record of what is presented at trial that establishes evidence for an abuse of discretion. So, unless there is evidence that the judge ignored something that they were told, this argument can be difficult to prove.
The challenge of successfully winning an appeal of a child custody decision does not mean that a parent who wants a custody order changed is without recourse. In the state of Pennsylvania, child custody can always be modified by filing a petition with the court. This then opens a new process that includes an educational seminar, mediation with the hope of achieving an agreement, and if no agreement is reached, the opposing parties will once again meet with a hearing officer or judge.
Child custody is one of the most emotional issues addressed during a divorce and an experienced attorney can help achieve the best results and make this process as simple as possible. If you would like to speak with an experienced, compassionate family law attorney about your situation, contact our office today.