Child Custody FAQs

Here are some answers that clients frequently ask me about child custody. These FAQs are provided for general information only and are not intended to be relied upon as legal advice. For a consultation, please contact us.

In Pennsylvania, there are two general types of child custody: legal custody and physical custody.

Legal custody is the right of a parent to make decisions for the well-being of their child, such as medical, educational, religious, disciplinary, and social decisions. A court may award “sole” or “joint” legal custody.

Physical custody is the right to have physical control of the child.

A court may award a parent:

  • Sole physical custody (where the child spends all of their time with one parent),
  • Primary physical custody (where the child spends the majority of their time with the “custodial parent”),
  • Partial physical custody (where a child spends less than 50% of their time with the parent, usually at designated times, such as weekends and holidays), or
  • Visitation (where a parent may visit with his/her child, under the supervision of the custodial parent or a third party).

Generally, to obtain an enforceable custody order or agreement, you must file a custody action in the Court of Common Pleas. If you and the other parent can come to an agreement, it can be written up and submitted to the court for the judge’s signature. If you cannot agree, then the court will usually require that you and the other parent attend court-ordered mediation and eventually a custody hearing. At the hearing, both parties will present their case, and any evidence. After the hearing, the court will make a decision and issue a custody order.
A court can modify a custody order if your circumstances have changed, or if the original order is no longer in the best interests of your child. To obtain a modification, you must file a petition with the court, and usually participate in mediation and/or a custody hearing.
You can enforce a custody order by filing a petition in court to hold the other person in “contempt.” If you are successful, the judge can order the other party to pay a fine, or submit to probation or jail time. In addition, the judge can order that the other party pay your attorneys’ fees for bringing the contempt petition.

Scroll to Top