PA House Bill 1639, now Act 112 will now govern all Pennsylvania custody cases commenced on or after January 24, 2011. The new law is a positive step toward quantifying the subjective decisions the court is required to make regarding child custody. For instance, the court is now required to list the factors it considered in arriving at its custody determination. In this way the parties to such actions will be better able to understand the court’s concerns and respond appropriately. Utilizing these factors, the parties to a child custody action will potentially be able to modify their demands accordingly and then potentially resolve their cases by agreement. The factors that the legislature has previously quantified as considerations for awarding alimony, child support and equitable distribution are used by the parties in mediation to resolve their differences.
An example of the factors the court will be considering in making a custody award is which parent will most likely encourage and permit frequent contact with the other parent. Another example is which parent will better provide stability and continuity in the child’s education and family life. This factor may be evaluated by examining the past parental duties of the parents.
Another significant change to the current child custody law is that the law specifically states that neither Mother or Father is favored and that both parents stand on equal ground when determining an award of custody.
Under the new law, when a parent is deceased or the parties are divorced, under certain specified circumstances, the grandparents of the child may have standing in a custody action.
While PA Act 112 is just the beginning and significant case law will be generated to interpret this new law, this reform of the Pennsylvania child custody law is welcomed by the legal community with open arms.