Custody definitions: clarifying the legal terms

If you are involved in a custody action in Pennsylvania, it is helpful to understand the terms that go along with it.  First, there are two types of custody in Pennsylvania – legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody means the right to make important decisions about your child.  The types of decisions that are considered legal custody decisions are educational, medical and religious ones.  Additionally, having legal custody means that you have access to medical, dental and school records and other such information about your child.  Legal custody can be shared by the parties or one parent may have sole legal custody. 

Physical custody is defined as having physical control and possession of the child.  Physical custody may be shared by the parties, one party may have primary physical custody and the other having partial physical custody or one party may have sole legal custody.  Periods of physical custody may also be supervised (supervised physical custody).

-          Primary physical custody occurs when one parent has more than one-half of the overnights with the child.  The other parent, in this situation, has partial physical custody.  It is important to note that the primary/partial distinction is defined by who has a greater number of overnights over the course of a year. 

-          Shared physical custody (commonly referred to as 50/50) occurs when the parents have an equal number of overnights. 

-          Sole physical custody is when one parent has the child 100% of the time.

-          Supervised physical custody is when one parent is required to be supervised by a responsible adult or an agency designated by the court.