In deciding child custody arrangements after a breakup, Pennsylvania’s family courts have guidelines to follow required by state law.

You and your ex may have issues involving complex, changing and competing factors, of course. But, as required by law, the judge’s rock-solid focus when making decisions will be the best interest of the child.

Focusing on factors relevant to the child’s best interest

Anybody can, and many people do dream up surprising ideas about children’s best interests. So, Pennsylvania law establishes a 16-item list of “relevant factors” when considering custody issues. The state’s conditions that affect a child’s interests for the better or worse include:

  • Stability in the child’s education, family and community schedule.
  • One parent trying to turn the child against the other without a good reason.
  • A parent’s drug or alcohol abuse, or factors relating to a parent’s mental or physical condition.
  • A parent allowing and encouraging the child to have plenty of time and a good relationship with the other parent.

The final item of the list of 16 relevant factors is simply “Any other relevant factor.”

Parenting plans are court-ordered road maps for parents

The plan is not quite for your child. It is instead for you and your fellow parent. Even if the plan comes from the two of you and your attorneys, the court will issue it as an order, and you will be bound by it.

You can at least try to include anything you want, but the judge will watch who takes the plan seriously and understands its goal, which is furthering the best interest of the child. Plans might include such things as:

  • The child’s primary residence.
  • A detailed visitation routine as well as vacation and holiday plans.
  • How you will handle any disagreements or proposed changes.
  • Methods of decision making on large and small issues.

Having these and many other issues settled from the start will lower the chance of unstable and stressful experiences for the child.

The court will create a plan if you cannot

If the two of you create the plan together, often with your attorneys, the judge will usually approve it.

But if you cannot agree on a reasonable plan, the court may make you go to mediation, where you will have the help of a qualified mediator in methodically working through each issue.

If all else fails, the court must create a plan and impose it on you.