For many Pennsylvania families, it is ideal for both parents to raise children together in one family home. However, sometimes couples break up, and when there are children involved, the family law system may need to step in to determine child custody. There are many things that affect child custody determinations.
One, of course, is the parents' preferences. The parents may agree on child custody arrangements, and short of either being unfit, their agreement may be all that is needed to put a child custody agreement into place.
However, there are many instances where parents disagree about custody. In those instances, especially with older children, family court judges may consider the children's preferences. A child may feel most comfortable living with one parent rather than the other most of the time. Depending on their age and maturity, they should typically be given the opportunity to communicate that and have their preferences considered.
Sometimes, though, even older children will hesitate to state a preference, not wanting to feel disloyal to either parent. Fortunately, the children's preferences are not the only consideration. Family court judges also look at everything that demonstrates the relationships between each parent and the children. This may include the amount of time they spent together while the entire family shared a home and which parent performed which caregiving tasks.
Often, family court judges will want to have parenting time after a couple breaks up reflect what it was before the couple broke up. So, for example, if a father was a stay-at-home parent while a mother was a fulltime provider when the parents lived together, the father may be awarded primary custody of the children.
Of course, each case is different, and the important thing for parents to remember is that their children's best interests come first.