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What does legal and physical custody mean in a divorce case?

If you are a parent who is going through a divorce in Pennsylvania, you may hear terms such as sole, joint, physical and legal custody when discussing topics regarding your parental rights. Whether you are negotiating the terms of your divorce through mediation or traditional court litigation, it is vital that you understand what these terms mean in order to maximize your parental rights in a divorce settlement.

In some divorce cases, the court-appointed judge may choose to award sole physical custody of your children to either you or your spouse, according to the Pennsylvania General Assembly. This means that the child would reside in the home of the parent who is granted physical custody. Joint physical custody is more common, however, as it may be in the best interest of your children to physically live with both you and your spouse. Keep in mind, that even through you may have physical custody of your children, you may not have full legal custody.

Legal custody refers to your ability to make crucial decisions regarding your child’s welfare. This includes decisions about your child’s education, religion, medical care and discipline. If you are given joint legal custody of your child, then you must discuss and agree upon these topics with your former spouse. For example, both you and your former spouse would need to discuss which school would be best for your child when it comes time to enroll them. If you were given sole legal custody, on the other hand, you would be able to make these decisions alone.

While this information should not be taken as legal advice, it can help you understand the process and what to expect.

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