What is Full Custody?
The term “full custody” means different things to different persons. In Pennsylvania we distinguish between legal custody (the right to receive information, and make decisions about school, medical treatment, etc.) and physical custody (where the child spends his or her time).
It would be very rare for one parent to have complete legal and physical custody, without some time for the other parent. The law assumes that the child’s interests are best served by having some contact with both parents.
In Pennsylvania, Shared Custody means that the parents are sharing time with the child. Primary Custody is used to indicate that one parent will have the majority of time with the child. Partial Custody refers to time spent with the other parent: it is distinguished from Visitation, because partial custody includes the right to spend time with the child either in the other parent’s home, or some other appropriate location. Visitation, strictly speaking, refers only to the right to visit in the primary custodian’s home.
Can Partial Custody or Visitation be denied?
Cases where a parent is denied any contact with the child are rare. In some serious cases of abuse, visitation could be denied entirely. This would happen where there was evidence that any contact, even if strictly supervised, would harm the child. A recent change in the law limits the visitation rights of a parent who has been convicted of murdering the other parent.
Another situation that can arise occurs when parental rights are terminated. Grounds include abandonment for at least six months, and incapacity of a parent. Normally, a court will not terminate parental rights unless an adoption is planned. The parent, even if their conduct has been less than perfect, is still considered to be a resource to the child, unless someone else (the adopting parent) is prepared to assume those responsibilities.
Typical Child Custody Orders in Pennsylvania
Because every child custody case is decided on individual facts, there is no “standard” custody order. The most common arrangement we see is that legal custody is shared, one parent has primary physical custody, and the other parent has partial custody or visitation on some regular schedule. Shared legal custody means that both parents have the right to receive information about the child’s health, and educational progress. It gives both some say in major decisions affecting the child, although it doesn’t give one parent veto power over the other. Sole legal custody can be awarded when that is best for the child: we typically see this where one parent has been uninvolved with the other, or where there is a protection from abuse order, making direct contact between the parents impossible.
Regardless of whether legal custody is shared or given solely to one parent, the court order will normally include provision child to spend some time with the other parent. The exact schedule will depend on the circumstances. The age of the child, the parent’s living situation, the school and work schedules are some of the many factors that need to be considered. Every other weekend is a common schedule, but that might not be appropriate for a parent who works on the weekends.