For parents of minor children going through a divorce in Pennsylvania, concerns about the relationship with their children will usually be the most pressing issue about what will happen in the immediate future.

Given that the courts tailor their custody determinations to reflect a family’s needs and circumstances, accurately predicting the specifics of a custody ruling in a pending divorce is nearly impossible. However, there are some general rules that can help you better understand what will likely happen.

If you hope to secure sole custody of your children in divorce, your family circumstances will typically need to fall into one of two categories. Otherwise, shared custody to some degree is the most likely outcome, as having both parents involved usually benefits the children, and the courts try to focus on what is best for the children.

Can you show that your ex is unstable or dangerous?

The first primary category of families that have sole custody outcomes involves one of the parents engaging in behavior or having a history that poses a risk to the children. A documented history of addiction or severe mental health issues may be grounds for the court to award full custody to one parent.

The same is true in circumstances where one parent can’t keep a job or doesn’t have a place to live. Abuse of the children or a partner can also influence custody decisions. If a parent can’t provide a stable and safe environment, the courts will likely expect them to improve their circumstances before they start to assert their parental rights.

Does your ex even want to push for shared custody?

In a shockingly high number of divorces with sole custody outcomes, the determination is the result not of one parent proving that the other is unfit but one parent choosing not to assert their parental rights in court. Depression because of the divorce or a general lack of desire for parental responsibility may be the primary incentive and in parent choosing not to ask for shared custody.

If you don’t have reason to think that your ex poses a threat to the children and they want to play an active role, then chances are good that the Pennsylvania courts will expect you to co-parent with them during and after your divorce.