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Clearing up custody confusion in Pennsylvania

Child custody is perhaps the most complicated portion of a divorce settlement, so it's important to know how Pennsylvania views custody.

The disposition of the children is the most important consideration for divorcing couples. Should the parents have joint custody of their children, or would it be better if one parent had primary custody of the little ones? Parents should try to keep the custodial arrangements as amicably as possible, because when the battle lines are drawn, only the children suffer.


The Pennsylvania statute recognizes two types of parental arrangements in a divorce agreement: physical and legal. The parent who earns physical custody of the kids is the parent with whom the children live. Legal custody establishes the parental right to make decisions regarding the children's education, health care and religious upbringing. In many cases, one parent will have physical custody of the children, while both parents will maintain legal decision-making custody.


If each parent has the children living with them equal amounts of time, they are in what the Pennsylvania Code calls "shared physical" custody of the kids. If one parent has the children most of the time, he or she has "primary physical" custody. "Sole physical" custody means the young ones only live with one parent; they do not spend the night at the other parent's house.

In this case, the noncustodial parent may be given rights to see the children. In situations where the child's safety is questioned, the parent may have "supervised physical" custody, where any visits are monitored by the custodial parent or another responsible adult. The ideal situation is shared physical and "shared legal" custody, where both parents remain active in raising their children together even though they are divorced. "Sole legal" custody means only one parent has decision-making authority over the children.


The custody order is issued by the family law court and outlines parental arrangements over the children, spells out the responsibilities of each parent and sets any boundaries that are considered necessary for the children's protection. Custody orders may also decide the percentage of child support each parent is responsible for, ensuring that the children's needs will continue to be met even though the familial unit itself has dissolved.


Family law matters are tricky because they are oftentimes filled with bitter emotions. This is why it is important for people in Harrisburg to consider enlisting the support of a qualified attorney. The attorney can help them ensure that the best custody arrangements possible are included in the final divorce settlement.