Types of Child Custody in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvanians are often confused about what type of custody they may have. TV and movies often just discuss “custody” as one thing, but there are multiple elements of “custody,” and multiple types of custody to explore. If you are considering suing for custody, or are currently involved in a custody dispute, it is important to understand what type of custody you are seeking, or what elements of custody you are seeking to enforce. For a free consultation on your custody case, contact the Philadelphia child custody lawyers at the Sadek and Cooper Law Offices today. Additionally, the following may help you understand the basics of child custody, and its different types.

Types of Child Custody

“Child custody” is not one, specific thing. There are different types of custody in Pennsylvania, which affect different areas of life. While you either have or do not have custody (there is no gray area), custody can be shared. “Sole custody” is the name for a situation where only one parent has custody. However, the law allows two parents to both have custody, which is called “shared custody.” When parents share custody, they usually each get full rights and responsibilities. “Shared custody” does not mean that parents each get half of the custody rights, but rather that each parent has full abilities to make decisions for their children – but they must allow the other parent equal decision-making authority.

While sole and shared custody describe how many people have custody, “legal” and “physical” custody describe what their custody allows them to do. Any parent with legal custody has the right to make decisions for their children. These decisions include major life decisions, such as:

  • Medical decisions,
  • Religious decisions, and
  • Educational decisions.

This protects the ability of a parent to decide things like what religion a child will practice, whether they will undergo surgery, and what school they will attend. It may also include the ability to make choices regarding what sports or activities your children will participate in, whether they can associate with certain friends, or what family members may have access to your children.

PA Legal Custody vs. Physical Custody

Physical custody is the right to have possession over your child – to have them physically with you, living in your home. When people say they are trying to “get custody” of their children, they are often referring to physical custody, in that they are trying to get a court to allow them to have their kids live with them.

When parents live together, both have physical custody. When parents move apart or get divorced, they may share physical custody, but one parent usually has the children for most of the year. This parent is said to have “primary physical custody,” or is called “the custodial parent.” The other parent has “shared physical custody,” and may be called a “non-custodial parent.” In some cases, a parent with legal custody cannot have physical custody without some sort of supervision. This is commonly known as “visitation rights,” but is legally known as “supervised physical custody.” These visits can be supervised by the custodial parent, a court or state employee, or some other person authorized by the court (such as a step-parent or grandparent).

The Legal Rights and Responsibilities of Child Custody in PA

Having child custody means that you have several parental rights and duties involving your children. As mentioned, legal custody authorizes you to make decisions for your child. This often means that others cannot interfere with those decisions, including schools, the government, and even other parents. If you need help enforcing your custody rights and decisions against the other parent or some third party, talk to an attorney.

Even though legal custody gives you decision-making authority, it does not give you the right to make every decision. Some decisions are left to the parent with physical custody. For instance, while both parents may have the general ability to make health-related decisions for their children, the parent who currently has physical custody has the power to make decisions such as what the child will eat for dinner. Some decisions are big enough to amount to something that both parents need to decide together (such as whether the child should be vegetarian or gluten-free), but day-to-day decisions are often left to the sole discretion of the parent with physical custody.

PA Sole and Shared Custody

This means that only the parent with physical custody usually makes decisions over day-to-day care issues, such as:

  • The child’s bedtime;
  • Whether they can go to a friend’s house after school;
  • How the child gets to soccer practice;
  • What the child wears to school; and
  • Minor disciplinary issues.

Philadelphia Child Custody Lawyer

The Philadelphia family lawyers at the Sadek and Cooper Law Offices can help if you have any child custody complaints, are seeking child custody, or want to block another parent from accessing your children. In some cases, our lawyers may even be able to help step-parents and grandparents seek custody. For a free consultation on your child custody case, contact our law offices today at 215-814-0395.

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