Types of Custody: Which Is Right for You?

Spouses with minor children must decide on child-related matters, including custody, when terminating their marriage. In Pennsylvania, there are different types of custody that can apply to a specific case. Parties can either agree on all divorce-related matters and custody, and divorce will proceed as uncontested, or they will need the court to intervene.

When determining who gets custody of child in divorce, the judge will be guided by the best interests of kids and will take into account a number of factors, including their needs, relations with both parents, etc. Which type of custody will be more suitable for your case depends on many circumstances.

In this article, we will analyze common custody options in divorce and discuss whether they will affect the amount and conditions of child support payments in Pennsylvania.

Overview: The Different Types of Custody

There are several types of custody arrangements in divorce and legal separation. According to PA ST §5323, the court can award any of the 7 types of custody in divorce. It can be shared, primary, partial, sole, or supervised physical custody and shared or sole legal custody.

How does custody work? It defines the rights and obligations of each parent regarding the upbringing and further life of their children after spouses separate or terminate the marriage. Depending on what issues are resolved, parental custody is divided into physical and legal.

Physical custody determines who the children will stay with most of the time, while legal one outlines which parent will make important decisions regarding their healthcare, education, and development.

In the following sections, we will discuss the 4 types of custody that are most common in Pennsylvania and other states.

Joint Custody

Joint custody is an arrangement where both parents are involved in their children’s lives post-divorce.

How does joint custody work? It divides the rights and responsibilities of parents in such a way that they can both take part in raising children, make decisions about their future, and spend a sufficient amount of time with them.

Shared custody can be physical and/or legal. If it is legal, it means that parents will equally participate in the discussion of important decisions regarding their children. They may relate to education, medical care, religious preferences, etc. If it is physical, the kids will stay overnight with each parent in turn. They can move to each of them for several days or weeks, depending on the terms of the shared custody agreement concluded by the parties or stated in a court order.

Who is the custodial parent in joint custody? Most often, it is the parent who spends more days with the children than the other. Since the year typically has an odd number of days, one of the parents will still stay with the kids for at least 24 hours more. Another way to decide who will be the custodian is to agree on this issue with the other spouse or ask the court to make a decision.

The main benefits of joint legal custody, as well as physical one, are the opportunity for children to communicate with both parents and to adapt to new living conditions more easily and with less stress. It also has a positive effect on parents. Shared participation in children’s lives can help them build friendly relations and be equally involved in raising their kids, maintaining the necessary emotional connection with them.

Although advantages are numerous, there are also several disadvantages of joint custody. If parents do not get along, constant communication about child-related issues may provoke new conflicts. In addition, it can be difficult for children to move from house to house too often.

Sole Custody

Sole custody means that one of the spouses will be the custodial parent while the other will be able to communicate with the kids according to a schedule determined by the parties’ agreement or court order. The custodian with sole legal custody will independently make decisions about the daily and important aspects of the children’s future. Parents with full physical custody will live with the children permanently, and the other parents will have the right to visit them.

What option is better and applicable in your situation depends on numerous case-specific circumstances. Their list may include, but is not limited to, the physical ability of both parents to participate in the children’s lives, their relationships with each other, work schedules, and more.

In most cases, sole custody is awarded to the parties in the following cases:

  1. One of the parents is considered incapable of taking care of kids. For example, they abuse alcohol or drugs, insult children, behave aggressively, etc.
  2. Children are old enough to express their opinion about which parent they want to live with or why they do not get along with the other parent.
  3. Parents live far from each other and cannot provide children with stability in daily life and organize frequent moving from one place to another.

Sole custody has several advantages. First, parents are not obliged to communicate and can quickly make decisions on their own. It often helps minimize conflicts. Second, children live in the same house all the time and do not get tired of traveling to the other parent’s location.

However, full custody can worsen the children’s relationship with one of the ex-spouses. In addition, it can be challenging for the custodial parent to raise the kids for most of the time independently.

Primary Custody

In Pennsylvania, primary custody meaning is defined by PA ST §5322; according to it, this type of arrangement between spouses means that one of the parents has the right to assume child custody for the majority of time.

The main difference between primary custody vs sole custody is that, having full custody, one of the parents becomes the child’s physical or legal custodian, that is, lives with them on a permanent basis or makes all decisions regarding their life independently. In the case of primary custody, one parent gets most of the time to stay with the children and the opportunity to solve daily issues without consulting the other party.

What are my rights with primary physical custody? If you become the primary custodial parent by agreement with the other spouse or a court decision, you will be responsible for the day-to-day care of the kids and will spend most of the days with them. The other parent will have time to visit the children and will be able to participate in the discussion of important issues that may concern where the kids will study, which groups they will attend, where they will receive treatment, etc.

The benefits of primary physical custody are as follows:

  1. Children have a stable place of residence and are not forced to move or change school from time to time.
  2. Parents do not communicate too often, avoiding possible conflicts, but both take part in the lives of their children.
  3. The relationship between parents and children does not deteriorate as in the case of sole custody, and kids can feel the presence of both parents after the divorce.

Disadvantages of primary custody include the inability of the party whom children stay with to independently make a decision over their future and the need to draw up a schedule that would involve both parents.

This type of shared custody is often appropriate in situations where parents both want to take care of children but live far away from each other.

Split Custody

Split custody is one of the rarely used custody options in divorce or legal separation. Under this approach, each spouse may become the sole or primary custodial parent of one child while the other one may receive full or partial custody of the others.

Parties can enter into a split custody agreement at their own will or by court order. Since it is the least common method of resolving child-related issues in marriage dissolution, the court should most likely have good reasons for making such a decision.

Here are a few situations where the appointment of each party as a custodial parent may be appropriate:

  1. Siblings do not get along with each other or with one of the parents.
  2. Either party moves to another state, and one of the kids does not want to change their place of residence.
  3. Children are attached to one of their parents through the place of study, etc.

In most cases, if both parents have satisfactory characteristics to be a custodian for their children, the court grants joint custody. However, in some situations, the judge can split parental rights and responsibilities for each of their kids.

The main disadvantage of 50/50 custody in terms of separating kids is that siblings communicate less with each other and with the other parent; it can negatively affect their relationship. Still, sometimes, it may be the only suitable option due to family situation.

What Type of Custody Do Courts Favor?

Judges usually prefer to award joint custody to parents, provided that it is in the best interests of children. Courts can also appoint other types of child custody if there are good reasons for one parent to be the custodian and the other to have only visitation rights.

When making a decision, judges will take into account numerous factors and circumstances. In Pennsylvania, their list is defined by PA ST §5328. According to it, when deciding on child-related issues, the court will pay attention to the following:

  1. Mental and physical health of parents.
  2. Cases of child abuse during married life.
  3. Performance of duties by parents.
  4. Relations between siblings.
  5. The need to ensure stable and continuous education of children and other factors.

What is the most common child custody arrangement? In Pennsylvania, judges will most likely seek to involve both parents in their kids’ lives after divorce and stick to the type of custody for a child that divides rights and responsibilities between ex-spouses. However, granting sole custody is reasonable if it meets children’s interests and ensures safety.

What If You Don’t Agree?

In case you and your spouse cannot decide on child custody on your own, you can try mediation to reach a mutual arrangement or leave the matter to the court.

Engaging a mediator is one of the ways to negotiate on disputed child-related issues. You and the other party can attend several mediation sessions where you will discuss your ideas for an agreement with the mediator; they will not solve disagreements instead of you but will help find a compromise.

If the conflict cannot be resolved, you need to ask the court to decide the case. To get the result you expect, you should think about how to convince a judge in family court in advance. You can involve a lawyer to represent your interests and provide sufficient evidence or testimony as to why you, but not the other parent, should be the custodian.

If the judge has already issued a decree, but you do not agree with it, you can appeal it. Your chances of winning an appeal in family court depend on whether you have sufficient grounds to change the child custody terms. In Pennsylvania, appealing a custody order is possible within 30 days from the date of the court’s decision (PA ST §5571).

How Does Child Custody Affect Child Support?

In most cases, child support will be paid by the spouse who spends less time with the children. In other words, child custodian rights include the possibility of receiving financial assistance for the kid’s maintenance if they have full custody or the majority of responsibilities for the kids’ upbringing.

In Pennsylvania, the amount of child support is determined by a formula where the key elements are the net income of each spouse and the number of children involved (PA Code 1910.16-1). It will usually be received by the parent who has primary or sole custody for child no matter what their earnings are.

If the child is going back and forth between parents and they have shared custody, child support will usually be paid by the parent with the higher income.

What custody arrangement is best for a child? It depends on many circumstances, in particular on their relationship with parents, habits, etc.

There are different custody types that can be chosen by spouses or ordered by court. To determine what type of custody is best for a child, you should first consider their interests and then analyze other various factors.

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