When parents cannot come to an agreement about the best custody arrangement for their minor children, the first step is to file a Custody Complaint. This complaint is usually filed in the Pennsylvania county in which the minor child has lived for the past six months. After filing this complaint, some jurisdictions will schedule the family to attend an educational seminar that explains the court/legal process and details the emotional effects of parental separation in relation to the children. Additionally, in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, after the educational seminar, a mediation session with both parents is required. This mediation is intended to facilitate healthy dialogue between parents and, ideally, reach an agreement. If no agreement can be reached during mediation, a conciliation between the judge and counsel of both parents is scheduled. During this conciliation, once again, the parents are encouraged to come to an agreement. If no agreement is reached, then a custody trial is scheduled. During the custody trial, the judge will make decisions based on the best interests and welfare of the child.
When determining best interests of the child, the court considers a myriad of factors that may affect a child’s physical, intellectual, moral, and spiritual well-being. Some of these factors include: the involvement of each parent in the child’s school, religious upbringing and medical care; whether there are other siblings or half-siblings in either parent’s residence; the child’s preference if the child can articulate a justifiable reason for the preference; the school district where each parent resides and the distance between the parents’ residences; whether either parent or the children suffer from any psychological or physical conditions; and whether either parent abuses prescription or illegal drugs or alcohol.