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Pennsylvania modernizes child custody laws in 2011

This year, a change in Pennsylvania family law that was 10 years in the making finally went into effect. Pennsylvania has changed its child custody laws to require more uniformity across the state and to standardize the criteria family court judges consider when making child custody decisions.

While divorcing spouses in an uncontested divorce have been able to reach compromises in making child custody arrangements for years, spouses going through a contested divorce often left the decision in the hands of a judge. The process could be very frustrating for spouses contesting a divorce, because judges often did not give a detailed explanation of their decisions. This left many parents wondering why their requests were denied. Unfortunately, obtaining a definite answer often required an expensive appeal.

With the new changes, family court judges are required to consider specific factors when making child custody decisions. These factors include which parent is most likely to encourage contact with the other parent, stability in a child's life, drug and alcohol abuse, sibling relationships and level of family conflict. The new changes are also designed to make child custody decisions more gender neutral.

Additionally, judges will now be able to appoint an attorney to represent the interests of children in a contested divorce. These attorneys, sometimes referred to as guardians, will be advocates for the best interests of the children. However, this can greatly add to the overall cost of a contested divorce. As you may have guessed, the spouses in a contested divorce will have to absorb the additional costs associated with involving additional attorneys.

Source:, "New child custody rules taking effect," Laurie Mason Schroeder, 1/23/2011

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