Legal custody and physical custody are major issues in many Pennsylvania divorce cases. Understanding the elements of child custody law in the commonwealth is crucial. A key factor is the difference between physical and legal custody. Many people find themselves in divorce cases without realizing that there are actually two types of custody. Understanding these differences is important.
Physical Custody Defined
In basic terms, physical custody is the right of a parent to have a minor child in the home. There are different types of physical custody arrangements. These are discussed in a moment
Legal Custody Defined
Legal custody is the right of a parent to make major decisions on behalf of a minor child. Major decisions include those associated with education, health care and religion. Other important decisions exist as well.
Types of Physical Custody
Pennsylvania law permits several different types of physical custody arrangements. Primary physical custody is a scheme in which one parent maintains residential custody of a child most of the time. The other parent enjoys some amount of parenting time or visitation.
Shared physical custody is an arrangement in which a child resides at each parent’s home on a fairly equal basis. Partial physical custody is a situation in which one parent maintains a primary residence for a child but the other parent does have the minor in his or her home on a regular basis.
Sole custody exists when only one parent has the right to physical custody of the child. The other parent may have some sort of limited right to parenting time. The noncustodial parent may have the opportunity for supervised visitation, depending on the facts and circumstances of a case.
Types of Legal Custody
Two types of legal custody exist in Pennsylvania. Sole legal custody exists in a case in which only one parent has the right to make major decisions in the life of a child. Shared legal custody is an arrangement in which both parents have the legal right to make major life decisions for a minor child. Generally speaking, shared legal custody is the preferred arrangement because it ensures that both parents maintain meaningful roles in the life of a minor child.