Case Notes: Custody factors

In the case of C.B. v. J.B. and M.B. and T.B. , 65 A.3d 946 (Pa. Super 2013), the Pennsylvania Superior Court gave guidance to trial court judges in custody cases on applying the custody "factors".

In 2011, Pennsylvania enacted a law requiring Judge's to consider 16 different factors in a custody decision. Parental duties, abuse, stability, extended family, sibling relationships, child preference and alienation are among the 16 factors.

In this case, the Superior Court ruled that lower court judges (who are the ones you would see) must do more than merely state that they have considered all 16 factors. Rather, the trial court must address each factor individually. Moreover, the trial court should list and discuss the factors at the time of the decision, but in no event later than the appeal period from the decision.

In this case, the trial court failed to address the 16 factors individually. Instead, it announced in open court two of the "key factors" for the court which "along with all the other factors" lead to the decision. Not good enough. But the Superior Court found that the appellant had not been prejudiced and so they did not overturn the decision. Future trial courts were put on notice to list and discuss all 16 factors at the time of the decision (or shortly thereafter).

An effective custody attorney will always keep the factors in mind when arguing a case, knowing that the Judge must do the same.