What’s in a Name? Child Custody Terms Explained

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
April 24, 2020

child custody lawyer lansdale paMost Important Legal Terms in Child Custody

Child custody is already a contentious process between separated parents. Adding to the contentiousness is the potential for confusion over important terms used in discussing and determining child custody arrangements. Some of the most important child custody terms include:

Legal Custody

Legal custody refers to parents’ right to make decisions about your child’s upbringing. Legal custody often comes up in decisions involving education (where to send your child to school), healthcare (which doctor should your child see), or religious matters (should a child be brought up in a certain religious tradition).

Physical Custody

Physical custody refers to a parent having their child in their physical presence, usually meaning the child’s residence in the parent’s home.

Shared or Primary Custody

Child custody disputes often center over whether parents should have shared or primary custody sometimes thought of as joint or sole custody. As the names imply, shared custody means that the parents share custody, while primary custody means that only one parent has custody most of the time.

Under shared custody, the parents are expected to share custodial time. In the context of legal custody, most courts prefer to grant parents shared legal custody so that each parent has a legal say in their child’s upbringing and so the parties continue to mutually agree on parenting decisions for their children. Courts can and often do award shared legal custody even when one parent is deemed the “primary” caregiver — the parents are expected to consult one another about decisions over where to send children to school, what medical care to provide, or what religious upbringing (if any) the children should have.

In the context of physical custody, parents can be awarded shared physical custody, even if their children don’t spend exact equal amounts of time at each parent’s home, although shared physical custody arrangements typically provide roughly equal time to each parent. Courts again prefer to award shared physical custody so that children maintain strong relationships with both parents.

In some cases, courts may award one parent primary physical custody and the other parent partial physical custody which can range from alternate weekends and one or two nights a week to only overnight or less if circumstances dictate.

Visitation/Parenting Time

Even when one parent is awarded primary or sole legal custody, the other parent may prefer to view their “visitation” time not as a “visit” or “vacation” but as “parenting time”, where they are able to parent their children just as the parent with primary physical custody does when the children reside with him or her. As a result, parents and courts are shifting away from the term visitation in favor of the term “parenting time.”

Contact a Lansdale Family Law Attorney for a Consultation About Child Custody in Pennsylvania Today

If you are thinking about filing for divorce, or if you have already started the divorce process and are dealing with another matter such as child custody, child support, or division of assets, you need to speak with a qualified attorney. The Pennsylvania family law attorneys at Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford, P.C. represent clients throughout the state, including Newtown, Colmar, King of Prussia, and Norristown. We understand how challenging this time can be for you, which is why we will fight hard to protect your interests, and the interests of your loved ones, throughout the legal process. Call us at 215-822-7575 or fill out our confidential contact form to schedule a consultation. We have an office conveniently located at 2605 N. Broad St, Colmar, PA 18915, as well as an office located in Newtown.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

Legally reviewed by:
Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C.
Pennsylvania Attorney's
April 24, 2020
Established in 1952 by Irwin S. Rubin, Rubin, Glickman, Steinberg & Gifford P.C. boasts over 65 years of experience serving clients throughout Pennsylvania. Renowned for its commitment to ethical representation, the firm has garnered prestigious accolades, including being named the "Best Law Firm" for its outstanding legal defense work by U.S. News & World Report. Their team of seasoned attorneys, recognized as Pennsylvania Super Lawyers and Rising Stars, brings unparalleled expertise to a wide range of legal matters, ensuring exceptional representation for individuals, families, businesses, and organizations.