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Pennsylvania guidelines for determining a child's best interests

Many decisions are made through the courts that affect children, such as those involving custody and support. State statutes require the courts to consider the best interests of the children when the matters being decided will likely impact them.

Although the best interests generally refer to what orders or actions will most benefit the children, Pennsylvania has several guidelines in place for the courts to follow. During deliberation, the courts must consider the importance of family preference and integrity to avoid removing the children from their homes. If children are removed from their homes, the courts must be sure that the children will get the care, guidance and treatment that they need to develop into self-sufficient adults. The protection, safety and health of the children are also major considerations in their best interests.

Furthermore, Pennsylvania statutes require the courts to consider all relevant factors, whether or not they are specifically listed. This might include factors such as the income of each parent involved in an order or action and the bonds that the children have with siblings and other close relatives. No matter the situation, the courts have to recognize the legal and constitutional rights of all the parties involved.

While some separating and divorcing parents are able to work out the matters of child custody and support through mediation, others are not. When these matters are being determined in court, a parent's lawyer may help demonstrate their parenting abilities and capability to provide for their children in every aspect of their lives. Because there are so many factors to consider when determining the best interests of the children, it can take months for the courts to issue final orders on these matters.

Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "Determining the Best Interests of the Child", November 19, 2014

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