Before you decide to take your custody case to court, evaluate your circumstances using the same criteria the judge will use. This can help you to develop a realistic idea of how the judge will decide. It may also help you to persuade your spouse to accept the plan you offer if you can show how your plan is, in fact, in your child’s best interests. 

The Pennsylvania statutes explain the “best interest of the child” factors. 

Safety

If your child has suffered or seen abuse in the home, the judge may order supervised visitation for the parent who may pose a physical or emotional threat. Even if you and the other parent have never harmed your child, the judge still needs to know that your child is safe in both households. 

Stability

Children need stability. One of the primary factors is whether you and the other parent can provide a stable environment at home and a stable, consistent parent-child relationship. You should also try to provide as much continuity as possible regarding school, social activities and family life. This includes time spent with other siblings as well as extended family. 

Parenting skills

Are you the primary caregiver? The statutes say that the court should consider which parent takes care of the day-to-day activities such as meals, homework and discipline. If the other parent does not spend much time with your child as a rule, then the judge may have concerns that he or she will not be a good caregiver. 

Respect for the other parent

No matter how much you and the other parent dislike each other, any attempt to create emotional or physical distance between parent and child will damage custody outcomes. You must be willing to encourage your child’s relationship with the other parent, and you should never speak negatively about the other parent to your child. A judge frowns on conflict and may decide a child should spend less time with a parent who is not willing to cooperate. 

The child’s wishes

Children do not often get to decide custody on their own, but the judge will listen to your child if he or she is old enough or mature enough to express an opinion on the matter. You may want to have an honest conversation with your child about what he or she wants before you begin negotiations.