Child Custody Laws in Pennsylvania

Just within the past year, Pennsylvania child custody laws have significantly changed the way that the courts decide custody in most cases. Any normal citizen in Pennsylvania may be unaware of these changes. It is important that you do what you can to stay informed and updated with the Pennsylvania child custody laws especially if you have your own past or present custody arrangement.

What types of custody do Pennsylvania child custody laws consider?

Pennsylvania child custody laws will always uphold the best interest of the child over everything else. Co-parents are encouraged to create their own child custody arrangement outside of court if they are able to agree and cooperate with each other. This is seen as being in the best interest of the child, after all, its most likely that parents know what’s best for their child. If co-parents are not willing to create a custody arrangement or cannot agree with each other it becomes the courts decision as to how custody will be granted. They are able to come to a decision by considering a number of factors which all help them to determine what is in the best interest of the child. The most common types of custody that Pennsylvania child custody laws and courts grant are either joint custody or sole custody with a visitation agreement. Joint custody, also commonly referred to as shared custody, is one where the both co-parents act as custodial parents over the child, giving them both joint physical custody. Joint physical custody has to do with the day-to-day care of the child and allocates at least 35% of custodial time to both co-parents. This also implies that they have joint legal custody. Legal custody has to do with the important decision making for the child. Sole custody indicated that one co-parent has both physical and legal custody over the child. The non-custodial co-parent will typically be given some sort of visitation rights in these cases.

Recent changes to Pennsylvania child custody laws

Pennsylvania child custody laws have changed significantly over the past couple of years. By the end of 2010 Pennsylvania family laws and courts have been treating child custody cases much differently than they had in the past. Some of these provisions to the Pennsylvania child custody laws affect relocation of child custody cases, the requirement that proposed parenting plans be submitted by co-parents in contested cases, claim to counsel fees, and much more.

Pennsylvania child custody laws: Old vs. New

The recent changes to the custody laws in Pennsylvania aim mainly to get rid of all of the old presumptions that are made by the court in child custody cases. Some of these old laws include the following.

  • It was assumed that continuing contact with both co-parents after separation or divorce is in the best interest of the child.
  • It was assumed that one co-parent is better fit to be awarded custody over another (instead of both co-parents).
  • It was assumed that the child’s gender created a preference between co-parents. For instance, a female child would remain with the mother.
  • It was assumed that the parents have right to custody over their child over any other third party individual.

The new provisions to the Pennsylvania child custody laws force the courts to consider numerous factors to determine the best interest of the child instead of making these presumptions. The courts are also required to provide reasons for their determination of custody either in front of the co-parents in court or in a written statement.

This information is not to be used as legal advice. For additional aide and legal information please consult with a Pennsylvania family law professional regarding Pennsylvania child custody laws. For a list of resources in Pennsylvania visit our Helpful Links – Pennsylvania page. The OurFamilyWizard website® is dedicated to providing co-parents with the tools and resources they need to easily manage their custody agreements. After becoming familiar with the Pennsylvania child custody laws, please visit the Child Custody and Divorced Parenting page for more information.


NOTE: Many state and federal laws use terms like ‘custody’ when referring to arrangements regarding parenting time and decision-making for a child. While this has been the case for many years, these are not the only terms currently used to refer to these topics.

Today, many family law practitioners and even laws within certain states use terms such as ‘parenting arrangements’ or ‘parenting responsibility,’ among others, when referring to matters surrounding legal and physical child custody. You will find these terms as well as custody used on the OurFamilyWizard website.