Bucks County Custody Cases – Different Types of Custody Arrangements

By a Bucks County Custody Lawyer

Divorce and separation are stressful and emotionally draining for the parties.  When children are involved, it is even more stressful because, in addition to the issues related to the divorce, parents also have to deal with custody issues.

Under Pennsylvania divorce law, there are different types of custody.  This article below will explain and discuss the two different types of custody in Pennsylvania, physical custody and legal custody.

Physical Custody

A party has physical custody when the child is physically in their care, i.e., the child lives with the party. There are five different types of physical custody.

The first one is sole custody.  This is when one party has physical custody of the child/children all the time.

The second type is primary custody.  This is when a party spends the majority of the time with the child, i.e., the party has physical custody more than half of the time. In general, when one parent has primary custody, the other parent will have partial custody or supervised custody, which is discussed below.

The third type is shared custody.  This is when more than one party, typically both parents, have significant periods of time with the child/children.  It is important to note that shared custody does not necessarily mean a 50/50 split.  There may be circumstances which make it impossible to have a 50/50 split between 2 parents.  This will be discussed in another article.

The fourth type is partial custody.  This is when a party has time with the child/children less than a majority of the time. 

The last type of physical custody is supervised custody.  This is when an adult or an agency named by the court is present during the time a parent has with the child/children.  The adult or agency employee monitors the interaction between the child/children and parent.  The court typically orders supervised custody when a party is a danger to the child, such as if the party has physically abused the child before.

Legal Custody

The second type of custody is legal custody.  This gives a party the right to make major decisions that affect the child, such as educational decisions, medical decisions, and religious decisions.

Like physical custody, legal custody is further broken down into two subcategories.  The first one is sole legal custody, which is when one party makes all the major decisions for the child.

The other type of legal custody is shared legal custody.  This means more than one party has the right to make major decisions for the child.  When parties have shared legal custody, they must consult with each other before making major decisions relating to the child. 

The vast majority of custody orders include shared legal custody.  Sole custody is rarely awarded, except in instances where one party is incarcerated, suffers from severe drug addiction or mental health issues, or has unreasonably withheld consent to legal custody issues in the past.