Child Custody: I Want Full Custody!

By Matthew T. Hovey, Esquire

Quite often a parent comes in for an initial consultation and expresses the desire to seek “full custody” of his/her child(ren). The term “full custody,” however, means a lot of different things to different people. Even amongst practitioners, terms like “full custody,” “primary custody,” and “visitation” can mean a variety of different configurations. As a result, the recent legislative update to Chapter 23 of the Domestic Relations Code seeks to clarify the meaning of custody terms and achieve uniformity amongst both practitioners and parents alike. The goal of this article is to assist in that goal and articulate the different types and configurations of custody.

(1) At the most basic level, there are two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. There are defined as follows:

“Legal custody.” The right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions.

“Physical custody.” The actual physical possession and control of a child.

(2) For legal custody, there are two configurations:

“Sole legal custody.” The right of one individual to exclusive legal custody of the child.

“Shared legal custody.” The right of more than one individual to legal custody of the child.

(3) For physical custody, there are more configurations:

“Sole physical custody.” The right of one individual to exclusive physical custody of the child.

“Shared physical custody.” The right of more than one individual to assume physical custody of the child, each having significant periods of physical custodial time with the child. Under shared physical custody, time typically shared equally so that in a fourteen day block, each parent will have seven overnights with the child(ren).

“Primary physical custody.” The right to assume physical custody of the child for the majority of time. Primary custody typically ranges from 99% to 51% of the defined custodial time with the child(ren). The counterpart to primary physical custody is partial physical custody.

“Partial physical custody.” The right to assume physical custody of the child for less than a majority of the time. Partial physical custody typically ranges from 49% to 1% of the defined custodial time with the child(ren). The counterpart to partial physical custody is primary physical custody.

“Supervised physical custody.” Custodial time during which an agency or an adult designated by the court or agreed upon by the parties monitors the interaction between the child and the individual with those rights.

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