Sometimes, the road to getting a child custody order in place can be a bit rocky. Yes, most parents want what is best for their children, but when those parents are going through a legal dispute, it can be hard to agree on what, exactly, the “best” really is. Strong, emotional disagreements in child custody disputes are common. So, for starters, parents in Pennsylvania should understand some of the most basic concepts about child custody.
Child custody basics
Two concepts, in particular, are the main building blocks of a child custody court order: “legal” custody and “physical” custody. Legal custody refers to which parent – or both – will have the ultimate say in how the child is raised and who gets to determine issues like where the child goes to school or church, for example. In essence, legal custody determines who gets to make the big decisions on behalf of the child. In many cases, legal custody is ordered as “joint” legal custody, meaning both parents have an equal part in these decisions.
Physical custody refers to where the child will actually reside and spend time. Even though physical custody is also typically ordered as “joint,” a child must live somewhere. So, splitting time between the parents’ residences is common, as is setting visitation schedules.
Although many child custody orders are “joint” for both legal and physical custody, some are not. “Sole” legal or physical custody can be ordered under certain circumstances if the judge feels that one parent or the other is better suited for such an arrangement.