Pennsylvania Family Courts have always been able to consider criminal convictions of the parties to child custody actions.  As of January 24, 2011, Pennsylvania child custody is now governed by §§5321-5340 of the Pennsylvania Code.  This new law specifically sets forth an expanded list of criminal offenses for the Court to consider and makes consideration of those offenses mandatory, rather than discretionary.

Pursuant to Section 5329, the Court shall consider convictions of the parties, as well as convictions of members of their households (emphasis added), for offenses, which include driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol, criminal homicide, aggravated assault, and rape, and determine whether there is a threat to the child.  An initial evaluation, assessing the risk, must occur and the Court must make a determination of whether a threat exists.  It is not clear who conducts the initial evaluation; could it be the Judge, a court officer, a third party?  The statute does not answer this question directly.

You may be asking yourself how the Judge will know about criminal convictions of a party to the action or especially, members of their households?  One family Court Judge noted that there will, indeed, be a reporting issue, since the statute does not state who is responsible for bringing this information to the Court.  Furthermore, there is no current, unified method for checking convictions and criminal charges in other states or for Federal crimes.  Perhaps the Court will consider requiring a verified cover sheet that includes full disclosure of criminal convictions.

Regardless of the administrative issues that may arise, an additional requirement for an evaluation and possible counseling (§ 5329(d)) related to the offense makes it reasonable to believe that child custody proceedings will become more extensive.