Understanding the difference between physical and legal custody

When you and your child’s other parent divorce, or if the two of you were not in a marriage, but want to share parenting responsibilities, you may need Pennsylvania’s court system to come up with a custody arrangement. The state recognizes several different types of custody. There are also different rights and responsibilities associated with each.

The two main types of child custody that Pennsylvania recognizes include physical custody and legal custody.

Physical custody in Pennsylvania

Physical custody refers to you actually having physical possession and control over your son or daughter. If your child plans to live only with you, the state may give you full, or primary, physical custody. Conversely, you may share physical custody with the other parent. Other physical custody options that might come into play include partial custody or sole physical custody. Whether you need to consider these options depends on the specifics of your situation.

Legal custody in Pennsylvania

While physical custody refers to having physical possession of a child, legal custody gives you or your son or daughter’s other parent the right to make major decisions on your child’s behalf. For example, if you have legal custody over your son or daughter, you maintain the right to make decisions about schooling, health care, religious upbringing and so on.

Depending on your situation, you and your child’s other parent may share physical and legal custody. On the flip side, you may share legal custody while one of you maintains primary physical custody, among other possible arrangements.


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