The confusion surrounding child custody and just “how it works” is a major concern and worry for parents who are contemplating separation or who need to get clarity about the issue. In deciding what direction you are about to travel, it is helpful to know the terminology and how the terms interrelate:
- LEGAL CUSTODY: Legal custody is generally, but not always, shared by both parents. If a parent enjoys legal custody, that parent is involved in the major decisions in the child’s life, such as religious, educational, health and other major issues. If Legal Custody is shared between the parents, the parents consult with one another, with the hope that they can agree as to these issues. If they cannot agree, then either a Mediator or Judge will be involved.
- PHYSICAL CUSTODY: Physical custody concerns who has the children in their possession (custody) at what specific time, or on which days, during the week or month. There are different forms of Physical Custody:
- Primary Physical Custody: If a parent enjoys Primary Physical Custody, that parent has custody of the child, for overnights, more nights during the month than the other parent. (Parents sometimes call to discuss “Sole Physical Custody”. Historically, this was granted when one parent was completely out of the picture. For example, it may be granted in a situation where it has been years since a parent had seen a child. Today, while Judges occasionally will use this term, it is rare. Generally, that parent will be granted Primary Physical Custody, even if there is no Partial Custodian seeing the child.)
- Shared Physical Custody: This is a custody arrangement whereby parents have equal physical custody time with their child or children. There are many variations on how an equal custody schedule might work, i.e, week on/week off; two weeks on/two weeks off, etc.
- Partial Physical Custody: This parent has less than fifty percent of the overnights with his child or children in a month.
- Supervised Physical Custody: This parent does not enjoy physical custody of their child without a supervisor, whether it is Court personnel at the Courthouse or some other third person, whom the Court feels is qualified, to supervise the parent when he or she is in custody of their child. This is only used in special or unusual situations and is not the customary arrangement. Previously, this was known as Visitation.
If the parents can work out an agreeable Custody schedule, the schedule can be as creative as the parties need. The Court will not interfere, generally, with an agreement.
If the parents cannot work it out themselves, the Court will get involved. To a great degree, the type of custody arrangement the parties end up with can be dependent upon a number of factors, not the least of which is the philosophy of the particular Judge to whom the matter is assigned.
It goes without saying that coming to an agreement between the parents, without Court intervention, is preferable. In this way, the parents “own the agreement” and structure it to their children’s needs. However, it is also true that not all custody arrangements can be agreed to by the parents. There are a number of different dispute resolution models available to you, including Mediation, Collaborative Law and Court involvement. To discuss which alternative might be right for you, feel free to give us a call at 215-967-9070. We would be pleased to speak with you.