Child custody is a big term. It refers to the rights and powers of a parent or other person to care and provide for a child. In Pennsylvania, the best interests of children guide decisions related to child custody.
However, parents may not know that there is more than one type of child custody, and those types can be divided into different proportions for each of a child’s parents. Legal and physical custody are subsets of child custody, generally, and represent different parental duties.
Understanding legal custody
Legal custody is about decision-making. It concerns whether a parent or other adult to be involved in part of the conversation about important matters related to a child. When a parent has legal custody of their child, they can be involved in the decision-making process for big issues like the child’s medical care, education, and religious development.
Understanding physical custody
Physical custody is about day-to-day care. Unlike legal custody, which is discussion-based, physical custody concerns who takes care of a child each and every day. A parent who has physical custody of their child has the right to have their child live with them according to the terms of their custody order or agreement.
Dividing custody between parents
As mentioned, child custody can be determined by a court in the form of a custody order, or through the agreement of the parents. In a custody determination, the rights of parents related to legal and physical custody are stated. Parents can have both, or one parent can receive sole custody and have the right to make all decisions and have the child live with them. Often if a parent does not receive physical custody of their child, they will have visitation rights with them.
Parents should remember that child custody decisions are not identical. The individual needs of a child, matched with the suitability of their parents to have custodial rights, along with many factors, will all be used to establish a custody plan for an individual child. Children are unique and so are families, so families should not rely on other child custody outcomes to guess how theirs may turn out.
When working toward a child custody hearing or negotiation, parents can prepare themselves. They can become educated about the custody process and can rely on legal advocates like family law lawyers to help them. Child custody is a big term with a lot of rights and responsibilities attached. It is important that it is done right and with the child’s best interests in mind.