Prioritizing Your Children’s Well-Being Throughout Your Family Law Struggle

Putting Children’s Best Interests First

One of the most contentious issues to work out through is how minor children will split time between the two parents. There are two types of custody but most of the time when you hear people mention “custody” they are referring to physical custody. Physical custody refers to where the child lives and which parent they spend time with. Legal custody refers to the right to make major decisions in the child’s life like what religious beliefs they will be raised with or what school they will attend.

Common Terms Vs. the Language Used in Pennsylvania Courts

While you will still hear a lot of people using terms like “full custody” or “visitation” those are both terms that Pennsylvania family law courts no longer use. Instead, they recognize six specify custody situations.

  • Shared physical custody (a significant share of time with each party) – Shared physical custody is the arrangement that the courts presume to be the best for the child assuming neither parent is unfit and they live within a reasonable distance of one another. When two parents share time, they not only do day-to-day schedules with issues like soccer practice, piano lessons, and picking up from school, but also once a year issues like summer vacation, birthdays, and holidays.
  • Primary physical custody (one party has more time than the other) – A couple may choose to have a primary physical custody arrangement in a case where one parent lives close to the school and the other parent travels for work. The nonprimary parent still has fixed times where the children spend time at their home, it is just a smaller portion of time than the children spend with the parent with primary custody.
  • Sole physical custody (the child lives with only one party) – Sole physical custody is what most people are probably imaging when they use the term “full custody” because the child lives with one parent 100% of the time. In a sole physical custody situation the noncustodial parent can still spend time with the child, but extended time with the child or overnights are at the discretion of the primary parent.
  • Supervised physical custody ( child visits with one party only under supervision) – People make mistakes and can still want to work toward building a relationship with their child. Supervised custody is typically reserved for situations where there has been extreme substance abuse or physical violence.
  • Shared legal custody (both parties have decision-making authority) – Legal custody is completely separate from what was formerly referred to as “visitation” or time spent with the child. The courts have a strong leaning toward shared legal custody even in cases where one parent has sole physical custody.
  • Sole legal custody (one party has sole decision-making authority) – This is the most rare situation of all six listed. It takes extreme circumstances for the court to grant sole legal custody to one parent.

Modification and Enforcement

There are times when a custody arrangement does not fit the current needs of the child, or is simply not being adhered to by one or both parents. If circumstances have changed and you believe there is reason to make an adjustment to an existing child custody agreement, I can help you facilitate that process. If you have an existing child custody order that you believe is workable but is simply not being followed by the other parent, I can work with the courts to get help enforcing the order.

Child Custody and Child Support are Not Related

It’s important that people understand that child custody and child support are completely unrelated topics. Child support is not a payment to see the child and being behind on a child support payment is never a reason to violate a custody arrangement. Child support is a simple mathematical equation based on the state’s guidelines; child custody arrangements are meant to facilitate effective parenting and help your child grow into an independent adult.

If you have questions about how child custody arrangements are made during a divorce or have an existing child custody agreement that you need help adjusting or enforcing, my firm can help.

I offer a free consultation. Call 717-281-1199 or send me an email today.