Overview: The various types of child custody

When people in Pennsylvania think about child custody, they typically think it refers to with whom the child primarily resides. However, child custody involves more than the parent who has physical custody of the child. It also includes the parent or parents who have decision-making authority, and it can take several forms.

Physical vs. legal custody

Physical child custody refers to where the child will live. In most cases, Pennsylvania courts try to provide liberal contact between the child and both parents. Parents might share physical custody of their child on rotating schedules either equally or unequally. However, there are some situations in which a parent’s visitation with a child could be restricted when the child might be in danger with that parent. Legal custody involves which parent has the authority to make important decisions for their child, including about their education, religious upbringing, and medical care. Like physical custody, legal custody can be shared, divided, or granted solely to one parent.

Joint vs. sole custody

When a child would be in danger emotionally or physically if placed in the care of one parent, the court might grant the other parent sole custody. Sole custody might include both sole physical and legal custody. However, most parents are granted joint custody, including joint physical and legal custody. In this type of situation, the child might go back and forth between the homes of their parents on a schedule that is in the child’s best interests. Legal decision-making authority might sometimes be granted to one parent alone or jointly shared between the parents. When legal custody is shared, the parents have to confer before making decisions about their child’s education, religion, and medical care.

In addition to the different categories of child custody, people can create parenting time schedules that work for their families. If they are able to negotiate an agreed parenting schedule, the court will adopt it as long as it is in the best interests of the child.