Pennsylvania has an uphill battle ahead to catch up with other states when it comes to statutes providing for shared parenting.
A new ranking of states by their statutory provisions promoting shared parenting in custody arrangements puts Pennsylvania in the bottom tier.
The Commonwealth received a grade of “D” according to a recent national report card released by the National Parents Organization (NPO), which advocates for equal shared parenting when parents are living apart.
There is a growing consensus among researchers that shared parenting – defined as equal time with parents – is best for children, but this is not reflected in law in most states.
Since the NPO’s first report in 2014, other states have leap-frogged ahead of Pennsylvania, with nine states enacting 13 shared parenting-friendly statutes. Most notable was Kentucky, a state that rose from a D- grade in 2014 to an A rating in 2019 when it became the first state to enact an explicit rebuttable presumption of joint legal custody and equal physical custody for temporary and final court orders.
According to the report, the Kentucky measure assumes joint custody (for both decision-making and time with the child), barring sufficient evidence that would warrant a different arrangement.
Pennsylvania, by contrast, has not budged from its D ranking in the 2014 report.
Only 16 other states received grades of D or lower. In order to be considered a “shared parenting state” by NPO’s standards states have to receive a C grade or better.
Pennsylvania can and should do better.
The NPO report recognized Pennsylvania for its statutes that list a “friendly parent” factor as the first factor in determining the best interest of a child with respect to a custody determination. Pennsylvania courts are required to consider “which party is more likely to encourage and permit frequent and continuing contact between the child and another party.” 23 PA. C. S. A. §5327.
However, this positive factor appears to be undermined by the lack of recognition of shared parenting in other statutes. For instance:
- Pennsylvania has no statutory preference for, or presumption of, shared parenting (joint legal custody and shared physical custody) for temporary or final orders.
- Pennsylvania statutes do not explicitly provide for shared parenting during temporary orders. Pennsylvania statute does not contain any policy statement or other language encouraging shared parenting.
NPO urges states like Pennsylvania to strengthen their statutes to create a rebuttable presumption of equal shared parenting.
“Children are entitled to the presumption that both of their fit and loving parents will continue to be fully engaged in their upbringing regardless of whether or not the parents are still living together,” the report concluded.
Dads’ Resource Center believes Pennsylvania can be a model for shared parenting one day and to that end is focusing on developing avenues for better recognition of father-family engagement in family law.
As a first step DRC, with its partner the Strong Families Commission, is asking the Governor and members of the Pennsylvania General Assembly to sponsor a resolution to recognize the importance of father-family engagement and the need to address barriers to it.