Pennsylvania: Understanding Child Custody Orders

Being on the brink of divorce with children involved forces you to put you and your soon-to-be ex's differences aside to devise a custody and visitation plan. To discuss living separate lives co-parenting can be painful and difficult to process. This is why child custody hearings are the most emotionally charged court process for parents. 

If you're heading to court, understanding the basics of child custody orders in Pennsylvania can maximize your chances of success. In this article, we'll discuss the state's child custody options, the criteria judges evaluate to make custody decisions, and why you need an attorney. 

Child Custody Options

Under Pennsylvania law, child custody and visitation can be established in a variety of ways, each of which depends on the arrangement selected for your situation. Courts generally commence child custody hearings with the assumption that children are more likely to thrive and be happy when they're able to spend lots of time with both parents unless there's proof that the child's welfare is in jeopardy. 

There are two main types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. 

Legal Custody

Legal custody determines which parents have the responsibility to make major decisions on behalf of the child relating to religion, health care, education, and travel. Legal custody may either be awarded to both parents (shared legal custody) or one parent (sole legal custody). 

Physical Custody

Physical custody determines where the child will reside, and hence which parent will have the responsibility of making day-to-day decisions.  Just like legal custody, physical custody may be awarded to both parents (shared physical custody) or one parent (primary physical custody). 

Criteria for Child Custody Decisions in Pennsylvania 

In Pennsylvania, child custody laws require the courts to take certain factors into consideration when making decisions. These factors help judges understand what the best interest of the child is. For example, if parents are seeking joint custody, the court will examine how well both parents get along. Other factors that are commonly considered in a hearing include:

  1. The proximity of each partner's residencies
  2. The mental and physical condition of each parent
  3. Sibling relationships
  4. The availability of extended family
  5. The need for stability in the child's education, community, and family life
  6. A history of abuse, if applicable
  7. Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent contact between the child and the other parent
  8. The parental duties performed by you and the other parent on behalf of the child 


Life is unpredictable. When it comes to raising a child, your circumstances are bound to change and it's possible for a custody agreement to stop working. When this happens, Pennsylvania law permits modifications in certain circumstances, like a move, for example.

If a parent can prove that there was a substantial change in circumstances and that this change was made with the best interest of this child in mind, a modification may be granted. These standards are applicable whether the parenting plan was established by just the parents or if it was ordered by a court. 

Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney

Child custody issues can be very difficult, and at the LLF Law Firm, we'll work with you to help you understand your options, identify your needs, and reduce some of the stress that many parents feel throughout this process. In a child custody hearing, it's imperative that your rights are protected and that your child's welfare is at the forefront.

If you are going through a divorce and have yet to retain representation, call LLF Law Firm at 888-535-3686 for a consultation.

Contact a skilled Family Law Team Today!

The LLF Law Firm has unparalleled experience practicing Family Law in Pennsylvania. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Our Family Law Team will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

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