Child Custody Terminology
Child Custody law in Pennsylvania uses terms in particular ways, which have importance when a custody order or agreement is being drafted. One important distinction is the difference between physical and legal custody.
Legal Custody is the right, and the responsibility to make decisions for the child, and to receive information from schools, physicians, etc. In Pennsylvania, legal custody is usually shared, which means that the parents share these rights. Shared legal custody does not mean that either parent has the right to veto decisions made by the other. It does require that both parents be involved when any important decisions are to be made.
The term visitation is technically used to mean the right to visit the child at the other parent’s home. Partial Custody means the right to take the child to the non-custodial parent’s home (or some other suitable place) for a period of time. A parent who has primary physical custody will have the child the majority of the time.
Many Judges and Custody Attorneys prefer to describe physical custody in terms of shared time, even if the time is not evenly shared.
Sharing Physical Custody
There are a number of ways by which physical custody can be shared – alternating weeks is one example. Whether this is practical or not depends on the parent’s geographic locations, and also on their ability to cooperate. Even if time is not divided in precisely even amounts, a variety of schedules are possible. The parents’ work schedules will need to be considered, along with the child’s school and activity schedules.
How Does Shared Custody Affect Child Support
Child support can still be ordered, even if the time is evenly divided, where one parent’s income is greater than the other. The Child Support Guidelines are used to calculate an amount of support, based on each parent’s income, and other factors such as the cost of daycare, or medical insurance for the child.
The support guidelines consider a shared custody arrangement to exist when the child spends at least 40% of the overnights with each parent. If this is the case, an adjustment to the amount of support can be made.