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What Are the Types of Child Custody?


Do you have children and are thinking about getting a divorce? Or, are you expecting a child while unmarried? Or, are you about to separate from your unmarried partner with whom you have children? In any of these situations, you’ll have to think about child custody.

Whether or not you’re on good terms with the other parent, you two can and should establish a co-parenting agreement if possible. You can avoid many disputes by agreeing on sharing child custody. Or a judge will decide, and you’ll need to stick to the plan handed down by the judge.

You don’t have to figure this all out on your own, though. It helps to have an experienced family law attorney by your side. Tammy Dusharm of Dusharm Law LLC can make sure you understand Pennsylvania child custody law, your rights, and your options for reaching a child custody arrangement.

Call 717-204-7820 or contact us online to set up a free consultation.

What Is Pennsylvania’s Child Custody Law?

You can read Pennsylvania’s child custody laws in Chapter 53 of Title 23, Domestic Relations.

Who Decides Child Custody?

It depends on the situation. Parents typically have the right to decide on a co-parenting plan themselves. You can do this outside of court or through mediation or conciliation. Working together is often the best way to create a customized arrangement that fits your family.

If you and the other parent can’t agree on custody, or if abuse, neglect, alcohol or drug abuse, or untreated mental health conditions are an issue, then you may need to put the matter before the judge.

How Does a Judge Decide Child Custody?

A judge reviews the evidence and decides what custody arrangement is in the child’s best interests.

The judge reviews several factors, including:

  • Which parent is more likely to encourage frequent contact between the child and the other parent;

  • Which parent is more likely to fulfill the child’s emotional needs;

  • Which parent is more likely to attend to the child’s daily physical, emotional, developmental, educational, and special needs;

  • Each parent’s availability to care for the child or make child-care arrangements;

  • The proximity of the parents’ homes;

  • The parental duties each parent performs;

  • The need for stability in the child’s education, family life, and community life;

  • The availability of a parent’s extended family;

  • The child’s sibling relationships;

  • The child’s preference, depending on their maturity and judgment;

  • A parent’s attempt to turn the child against the other parent;

  • The level of conflict between the parents and their willingness and ability to cooperate;

  • Any present and past abuse committed by a parent or member of the parent’s household, any continued risk of harm, and which parent provides the safest environment;

  • Any history of drug or alcohol abuse by a parent or member of a parent’s household; and

  • The mental and physical condition of a parent or member of a parent’s household.

If you and the other parent don’t agree, the judge might require you to each submit a parenting plan. You’ll provide the court with an arrangement you think is appropriate and your reasoning why. Your proposal will include details of how you’ll share time, including holidays and vacations, child care arrangements, the child’s education, religious involvement, health care arrangements, transportation arrangements, and more.

The judge can require you to attend information programs or counseling during a contested child custody matter.

Is a Mom More Likely to Win Custody?

No, nothing in Pennsylvania law gives mothers preference for child custody. The law specifically says there’s “no presumption that custody should be awarded to a particular parent.” The child’s age is a factor in custody, but parents and courts can arrange for co-parenting even for young children who are still breast or bottle-fed.

What Are the Types of Child Custody?

There are two types of child custody: physical and legal. You and your child’s other parent will have to decide how to share both types of custody. But if you can’t reach an agreement together or through mediation, then you’ll have to let the judge decide.

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to which parent has the child with them at their home. Legally, it’s the parent’s right to possess and control the child. One parent can have sole custody of the child, or the parents can share physical custody.

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to the right to make important decisions for the child, including religious, educational, and medical decisions. One parent may have legal custody, or the parents might share it.

Physical custody and legal custody don’t have to be divided the same way.

What Is Sole Custody?

Sole custody means a judge has awarded physical and legal custody to one parent. A parent has an exclusive right to possess, control, and make decisions for the child. This arrangement is rare, but it can happen if there are abuse, neglect, or abandonment issues.

What Is Shared Custody?

Shared custody or joint custody means both parents have contact with their children. Joint custody can be equal or close to 50/50. However, this isn’t required.

In shared custody, you can have a primary custodial parent. The primary parent, whether a mom or dad, has the child a majority of nights throughout the year. The child spends less time with the other parent, who would have periods of partial parenting time equaling less than fifty percent of the overnights per year.

If one parent has primary custody, they may also have sole legal custody, or they may still share legal custody with the other parent.

It’s tough for parents to imagine not seeing their child every day. Fortunately, co-parenting comes in all sorts of arrangements as long as parents are willing to focus on what’s best for their children and compromise. If the decision is left up to the judge, it will probably be a fairly typical arrangement. But parents can arrange a unique co-parenting plan that works for their family.

A Quick Overview: The Types of Child Custody

Because it can be confusing, here are the types of custody a judge can award you:

  • Shared legal custody (You share decision-making power);

  • Sole legal custody (You make all the important decisions);

  • Shared physical custody (You both have significant periods of time with your child);

  • Primary physical custody (You’d be the primary custodial parent);

  • Partial physical custody (You’d be the non-custodial parent);

  • Sole physical custody (The other parent doesn’t have any custody or visitation); and

  • Supervised physical custody (Another adult monitors your interactions with your child).

Call a Perry County family law attorney right away if you’re worried about getting enough time with your child.

Can Someone Other Than a Parent Get Custody?

In rare situations, a court might award custody to a grandparent, great-grandparent, or another adult involved in the child’s life.

Someone has the right to ask for custody if they’ve stood in as a parent for the child. For example, this could be a step-parent who never officially adopted the child but stepped in for an absent parent.

Pennsylvania law specifically gives grandparents and great-grandparents the right to ask for partial physical custody or supervised custody in a few circumstances. But courts typically don’t go above parents’ heads. Unless extenuating circumstances exist, generally, If both parents are alive and agree that the grandparents shouldn’t have custody or visitation, the court typically won’t grant it.

Can I Change Child Custody?

Yes, you can modify child custody in the future. There are technically two ways to do this. Either both parents agree to change the custody agreement, or you have to petition the court to change the agreement.

Any parent can ask for a modification at any time, though that doesn’t mean the court will change the child custody order.

If you ask the court to modify a child custody order, you’ll have to give a reason and prove it’s in the child’s best interests. It’s common for parents to ask for a new child custody agreement if there’s been a significant change in circumstances, they wish to relocate with the child, or after several years the current order doesn’t fit the child’s situation well anymore.

Is Child Support Based on Child Custody?

Child support is a separate issue from child custody. Both parents are required to financially contribute to raising their child. How much one parent has to pay another is based on Pennsylvania’s child support guidelines.

In general, child support is based on the parents’ combined adjusted net incomes and the number of children. The court will determine the basic child support amount and then each parent’s portion of that amount. Various factors can influence the final amount, including which parent has a majority of physical custody and who covers health insurance, child care, and other expenses.

Child support calculations can get complicated quickly, which is why it’s important to have an attorney handle this matter for you.

Dusharm Law LLC Is Here to Help

At Dusharm Law LLC, Tammy Dusharm works with parents in Perry County, PA, and the surrounding areas with divorce, child custody, relocation, child custody modifications, and child support matters. She knows how emotionally charged these situations can be. That’s why she’s here to offer experienced and compassionate guidance.

If you’re ready to schedule a free consultation, call 717-204-7820 or fill out our online form.

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