PA Superior Court Clarifies Application of All Factors of Custody Statute

Earlier this summer, the Pennsylvania Superior Court issued its decision in S.W.D. v. S.A.R., which involved a primary dispute around whether a five year old should attend public or church-oriented kindergarten. The essential question decided in this case is whether a school decision required the trial court to evaluate the 16 specified custody factors set forth in 23 Pa.C.S. 5328(a).

The Superior Court’s decision provides the bench and the bar with a strong and coherent analysis of when the statutory factors must be applied to the facts. The Court cited to the statute itself, specifically that the factors must be applied to any form of custody, which is distinguished from custody decisions which may change terms but not form. The Court decided that a decision regarding schooling alone is not one that warrants analysis of all of the statutory factors. However, the Court did set forth that a school change that required a change in the form of the custody order may require the complete analysis. The Court did note that all of the statutory factors may become relevant in any custody decision and that both the factors and the role of any Court are to promote the child’s interest.