What Factors Will the Court Consider in Deciding a Custody Case?
There are sixteen statutory factors that a court is required to consider in a custody case, though the court can also consider additional unenumerated factors. All of the factors that a court considers are related to determining a custody arrangement that is in the best interest of a child. The sixteen statutory factors are as follows, with examples of questions or considerations the court may consider for each factor:
1. Which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party;
• Do the parties ensure that the child is reasonably able to contact, and be contacted by, the other party by phone, videochat, or other means?
• Do the parties actively encourage the child to contact the other party?
• Do the parties work together to ensure that the child is visiting with both parties?
• Do the parties make unnecessary demands or intentionally cause difficulty for one another in setting up phone calls, videochats, or visits?
2. The present and past abuse committed by a party or member of the party’s household, whether there is a continued risk of harm to the child or an abused party and which party can better provide adequate physical safeguards and supervision of the child;
• Does either party have any mental health or substance abuse conditions which increase the likelihood that they might harm the child (physically or psychologically)?
• Has either party abused the other party or another member of the household in the past?
• Are there any criminal charges, PFAs, or CYS involvement surrounding past or present abuse allegations?
3. Information relating to consideration of child abuse and any involvement with protective services (“CYS”);
• Has CYS, or a child protective agency in any other state or jurisdiction, been involved with either party?
• Have any allegations of abuse been deemed to have occurred (by being marked “indicated,” “founded,” “validated,” or similar indications)?
• Has either party used CYS as a weapon against the other party by making frequent, unsubstantiated reports?
4. The parental duties performed by each party on behalf of the child;
• To what extent do both parties care for the child’s medical, educational, nutritional, and other needs?
• Has one party historically performed substantially more of the parental duties in one or more areas?
• Are both parties capable of performing parental duties?
5. The need for stability and continuity in the child’s education, family life and community life;
• Has either party moved frequently?
• Do the parties live in the same school district?
• Does either party have frequent changes in their household composition, for example by having new boyfriends or girlfriends move in frequently, or by moving around to live with different relatives?
6. The availability of extended family;
• If grandparents or other relatives live in the area, do they help out with the child or visit with the child regularly?
• If a party needed assistance, are there relatives that they could reliably call on to assist?
7. The child’s sibling relationships;
• Does either party have other children?
• Do the other children live in the household?
• Has the child developed a relationship with their sibling(s)?
• How would any given custody arrangement affect the child’s sibling relationships?
8. The well-reasoned preference of the child, based on the child’s maturity and judgment;
• How old is the child?
• Does the child have a preference regarding which household they would like to spend more time in?
• When the child expresses any preference, are they giving well thought-out reasons for that preference?
9. The attempts of a parent to turn the child against the other parent, except in cases of domestic violence where reasonable safety measures are necessary to protect the child from harm;
• Do the parties speak negatively about one another in front of, or with, the child?
• Do the parties discourage the child from spending time with the other party?
• Do the parties lie about the other party or the other party’s intention in an attempt to get the child to side with them?
10. Which party is more likely to maintain a loving, stable, consistent and nurturing relationship with the child adequate for the child’s emotional needs;
• Is the child doing well emotionally?
• Are any emotional issues with the child related to either party’s conduct or lack or appropriate care?
• Does the child feel supported by both parties?
• Has either party been absent from the child’s life for any lengthy period of time?
11. Which party is more likely to attend to the daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational and special needs of the child;
• Do the parties ensure that the child is appropriately clothed, fed, and bathed?
• Do the parties attend parent-teacher conferences and IEP meetings, and stay informed about how the child is progressing in school?
• Do the parties help the child with their homework?
• If the child has any special needs, have the parents sought out appropriate interventions for the child, such as physical or occupational therapy?
12. The proximity of the residences of the parties;
• Do the parties reside within the same school district?
• If the parties do not live nearby, are their residences close enough that they could equally share custody, or will it be necessary for one party to have custody of the child the bulk of the year?
• Do the parties have reliable transportation?
• Can the parties afford transportation costs between their residences?
13. Each party’s availability to care for the child or ability to make appropriate child-care arrangements;
• What do the parties do for childcare while they are working?
• If they need childcare, have the parties made appropriate arrangements for childcare?
14. The level of conflict between the parties and the willingness and ability of the parties to cooperate with one another. A party’s effort to protect a child from abuse by another party is not evidence of unwillingness or inability to cooperate with that party;
• Do the parties argue frequently?
• Do conflicts between the parties interfere with their ability to effectively coparent?
• Is either party instigating or causing more of the conflict than the other?
15. The history of drug or alcohol abuse of a party or member of a party’s household; and
• Has either party, or a member of either party’s household, ever been convicted of DUI, possession of controlled substances, or other convictions frequently associated with drug or alcohol abuse?
• If either party has experienced an addiction to drugs or alcohol, have they successfully completed rehab, therapy, or other programs?
• How far in the past were any drug and alcohol issues?
• Has a party experienced multiple episodes of addiction and subsequent recovery?
16. The mental and physical condition of a party or member of a party’s household.
• Does either party have a physical or mental health condition which impacts their ability to care for the child?
• If a household member has a condition that would limit their ability to care for the child, is the party living in that household ensuring that that household member is not babysitting the child?
• Does either party, or a household member, have a mental or physical condition which could cause them to endanger the child?
When reviewing the factors listed above, the Court does not necessarily count up the factors that favor each party. While some factors may favor one party, some the other, and some may be neutral, the Court’s evaluation of the factors is not really a sheer numbers game. Some factors may be more important in any given case; for example, if a party is currently experiencing addiction, the factor involving the “history of drug or alcohol abuse” may weigh more heavily than many of the other factors in that case. Ultimately, the Court analyzes each factor and makes a decision, considering the whole picture, regarding the custody arrangement that is in the child’s best interest.
If you are interested in learning more about child custody, or you would like to discuss your unique situation, contact Tanner Law Offices at (717) 731-8114 for a consultation with one of our attorneys.