Allegheny County Generations Program
When seeking custody of a child in Pennsylvania, it is important to understand the different types of custody available.
First, distinguish between “legal custody” and “physical custody.”
“Legal custody” refers to the right to make major decisions affecting the best interests of a minor child, including medical, religious, and educational decisions. Under Pennsylvania law, there is a presumption that “legal custody” is shared equally by both parents.
“Physical custody,” on the other hand, refers to the actual physical possession and control of a child. Custody disputes usually arise over issues of “physical custody,” as parents disagree about who gets the child and when.
There are several types of “physical custody.”
“Shared physical custody” refers to when parents divide time with the child equally – for example, on a week-on, week-off basis. It does not have to be 50/50; even a 60/40 time split based on overnights spent with the child is considered “shared physical custody.”
Another typical custody arrangement occurs where one parent has “primary physical custody” and the other parent has “partial physical custody.”
“Primary physical custody” refers to the right to have physical possession of a child for the majority of the time.
“Partial physical custody” means the right to take possession of a child away from the custodial person for a certain period of time.
For example, a parent who gets the child every other weekend and for a few hours during the week has “partial physical custody,” whereas the other parent has “primary physical custody.”
Finally, “visitation” means the right to visit a child, but does not include the right to remove the child from the custodial parent’s control. “Visitation” is frequently granted to grandparents or a parent who has been out of the child’s life for a substantial amount of time.
“Supervised visitation” refers to when a court orders that a supervisor be present during the visit. This usually occurs when there are issues of physical abuse or substance abuse that could endanger a child’s welfare. If no such issues exist, the arrangement is known as “unsupervised visitation.”
It is important to remember that child custody arrangements can always be modified so long as the parents mutually consent. To speak with an experienced child custody attorney, call Spivak Law Firm at (412) 344-4900 or toll free at (800) 545-9390.