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Physical custody and legal custody: What's the difference?

For divorcing parents in Philadelphia who are just beginning to deal with issues of child custody, the process may seem like it involves a language unto itself. And it does. Each parent should become fluent in the relevant terms and their meanings in order to establish a parenting plan that is in the best interests of the child.

In particular, parents in Pennsylvania need to know that custody can be broken down into physical custody and legal custody, and it is important to know the differences between the two.

Essentially, physical custody involves where the child will live. And this designation of physical custody can be divided into partial physical custody and primary physical custody. Partial physical custody is otherwise called visitation, meaning the parent with partial custody (the noncustodial parent) will have to work out a visitation schedule with the parent with primary custody.

Legal custody basically comes down to decision making. Who will be able to decide about the child's general welfare, such as in matters of health care, religious life and schooling? Under Pennsylvania law, both parents have legal custody, but sometimes it is necessary to take steps in court to keep one parent from overstepping the other's parental rights.

When it comes to the amount of time each parent will spend with the child, usually the parent with primary physical custody has something like 22 days per month with the child in the home. The noncustodial parent will in turn have visitation amounting to about eight to 10 days per month. Of course, parents can work with an attorney who can help them create a specific plan that is right for all parties involved.

If you would like to learn more about child custody issues, feel free to stop by our Philadelphia family law site. Our firm helps parents create parenting plans that are unique to the family's situation.

Source: Huffington Post, "Custody And Its Different Components," Eyal Talassazan, Oct. 16, 2012

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