When parents of minor children are going through a divorce, one of the issues that needs to be taken care of is child custody. If the parents are not able to come to an agreement as to what sort of child custody arrangement to have, the matter will generally go to a custody hearing, in which a judge will make a decision on the custody issue. Here in Pennsylvania, the best interests of the child are what a judge is to base their decision on.
There are many different factors judges in the state can look at when making a "best interests" determination.
One is whether there are any potential "red flags" in the past of either of the parents. This can include things such as: alcohol problems, drug problems, physical abuse history and certain types of criminal convictions.
Judges will also generally look into matters and evidence indicating whether there are any differences between the two parents when it comes to things such as: their ability to meet the child's various needs, their ability to have a strong relationship with the child and their capacity for allowing the other parent to be an active part of the child's life.
The wishes of the child are also something courts look at.
These are just a few examples; the range of factors courts can consider is incredibly large. In a given case, any factor which is relevant is to be considered by the judge.
There are certain factors that judges are to give extra weight to when considering what custody decision would be most consistent with a child's best interests. For example, such extra weight is to be given to factors that touch on a child's safety.
Making as strong of a case as possible in a child custody hearing can be very important for a parent. Child custody attorneys can help parents who have an upcoming child custody hearing develop arguments that take into account the various factors that are present in their particular situation.
Source: FindLaw, "Pennsylvania Child Custody Laws," Accessed Sept. 11, 2014