Same-Sex Child Custody in Pennsylvania

A May 2014 landmark ruling has resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania. U.S. District Court Judge John Jones III struck down state laws banning same-sex marriage in Pennsylvania, claiming that these were unconstitutional. Now, same-sex couples may enjoy all of the benefits that come with marriage.

Same-sex couples with children may begin to face obstacles with specifics in divorce, especially with those regarding child custody. The following provides a guideline on child custody in Pennsylvania, as well as what a same-sex spouse can do to acquire custody of his or her own children.

Child Custody After a Divorce

During a divorce that involves children, spouses have the right to come to an agreement on their own regarding a parenting plan. In the event that the spouses cannot agree, the court will decide using a variety of factors, which are outlined in Section 5328 Title 23 of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes.

These factors consider:

  • which spouse will encourage and permit frequent and continuous contact between the child and another party;
  • if abuse has occurred in the household;
  • the need for stability in the child’s education, family life and community life;
  • the child’s relationships with his or her siblings; and
  • the duties performed by each parent.

In examining these specifics, the court often can come to a custody decision while keeping the child’s best interests in mind. Courts in Pennsylvania can award varying levels of physical and legal custody, depending on the circumstances of the case.

Issues That May Arise

If both same-sex spouses are legal parents of the child or children, the proceedings should work similarly to that of custody issues involving heterosexual couples. Same-sex spouses can gain status as legal parents by the child being born into the marriage, through a stepparent adoption or through a traditional joint adoption.

Of course, if one of the spouses is not a legal parent of the child or children, this may present a host of complications for the non-legal parent — the law often favors a legal or biological parent.

In the 2005 case of Jones vs. Jones; however, well before same-sex marriage was legalized, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania awarded primary custody of a child to the nonbiological parent in a lesbian couple, on the basis that she acted in loco parentis (in the place of a parent). Ultimately, in situations involving only one legal parent, the court may examine the actions and intents of both caregivers in regard to the child throughout his or her life.

A Pennsylvania Attorney Can Help

With the continuously changing legal landscape of same-sex child custody, it is important to enlist the help of a family law attorney in Pennsylvania. The legal professionals at ARM Lawyers, LLC can help you petition for custody so that you can spend more time with the child or children that you love.