Divorcing parents in Pennsylvania may find that settling child custody issues is very difficult, so understanding all their options can make a difference in the process. The law recognizes only two types of child custody: legal and physical. Legal custody gives a parent the duty and right to make decisions about any matter that can affect a child's education, welfare or health. Physical custody refers to with whom the child will reside.
There are multiple ways that physical and legal custody can be assigned, and not having an understanding about the differences between the two types of child custody may cause a parent to agree to unfair settlement terms. A parent who has sole custody of a child has complete legal and physical custody. The non-custodial parent will have only limited means to the child or will be given visitation.
Joint custody means that both parents share legal and physical custody. While the ideal outcome would see the children spending the same amount of time with each parent and each parent having the same amount of input regarding the decisions made pertaining to the children, this is not common. Typically, the children will spend the majority of their time with one of the parents, who will be the main decision-maker.
In some situations, the family court may deem it appropriated to give a third-party legal and physical custody of the children if both parents are viewed as unfit. The third party may be grandparents or other family members.
An attorney who practices family law may advise clients about which child custody options are applicable to their situation. The attorney might engage in litigation to prove to the court that the best interests of the child are served by awarding the client sole custody.