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Child custody in Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, custody encompasses two different forms. Legal custody refers to the ability of a parent to make major decisions for the child and may be either solely held by one parent or shared by both. Physical custody refers to with which parent the child will live most of the time. Like legal custody, physical custody can take different forms.

Courts that make decisions regarding the legal and physical custody of a child take into account a number of important factors, always viewing the order through the lens of the child's best interests. The court's consideration includes such things as domestic violence and child abuse history, drug or alcohol abuse, the child's own interests if they are old enough, and the child's ties to the community and school among other factors. Courts do not base decisions based on the parent's gender.

Physical custody can take four forms. A parent who is granted primary physical custody will have the child residing in their home for a majority of the time. Persons granted shared physical custody both have the right to have the child with them in their homes more often. A parent granted partial physical custody will have unsupervised visits on a more infrequent schedule, either a few hours a week or every other weekend. In situations where allowing a parent to have unsupervised visits would be potentially dangerous to the child, courts will order supervised visitation in which another person will supervise and observe the parent's interactions with the child during the visit.

People who wish to file a custody case may benefit by meeting with a family law attorney who has experience in custody matters. The attorney can provide an evaluation of the facts of an individual situation and advise the client accordingly.

Source:, "Custody Law in Pennsylvania", September 30, 2014

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