As a part of every divorce that involves children, the parents' divorce decree from a family court judge will describe the child custody arrangements. These arrangements will state who the child is living with (the custodial parent), how visitations with the noncustodial parent will occur and how the parents will share decision-making about raising the child.
In most divorces, the parents will receive what's called "joint custody." However, it's important for parents to realize that -- among their various child custody options -- joint custody might not necessarily mean that the child will live with both parents for an equal amount of time. Essentially, there are two categories of child custody that could be referred to as "joint."
Physical custody: Physical custody refers to where the child is living. If the parents have "joint physical custody," then it's likely that the child will have two homes. This is becoming a more common arrangement. If a parent has "full physical custody," on the other hand, then the child will have one permanent residence and will usually visit with the other parent according to a regular and frequent schedule.
Legal custody: This is the other important type of custody to be covered under the divorce decree. In most cases -- barring a situation of abandonment, a history of criminal or abusive behavior or a person's unfitness to be a parent -- courts will award both parents "joint legal custody." This means that the parents will need to arrive at decisions together that pertain to the child's life, education, medical care, activities, religion and discipline.
Whether you're seeking joint physical and legal custody, full custody, visitation rights or some other arrangement, you may want to learn more about how Pennsylvania family law applies to your child custody situation.