Types of Custody

Physical Custody

Physical custody describes an arrangement through which both parents share time with the child. In some circumstances, the child’s custodian may be a grandparent or a third party such as a close relative. Physical custody arrangements can vary significantly from one case to another. There is no right arrangement that fits all families or age groups.

Relocation Issues

In addition to traditional custody disputes, some cases involve custody relocation where one parent wants to move to a distant location. There are specific procedural requirements that must be met in order to bring a relocation case to the court. Some cases involve disputes between jurisdictions where the court has to determine who will decide the custody dispute and which law to apply. Pennsylvania has complex jurisdiction statutes that dictate where and how cases may be heard.

Legal Custody

Legal custody is the right to make major decisions concerning a child, including decisions pertaining to religion, education, and health. Legal custody is typically shared. Sole legal custody is usually only granted when one parent is not fit to make such decisions or where the parties have demonstrated to the court that they cannot successfully share legal custody. Common legal custody disputes often involve school choice or participation in extracurricular activities.

Third Party Custody

Under certain circumstances, individuals who are not the biological parents of a child may request physical custody of the child. Pennsylvania affords grandparents special status as it relates to custody issues for their grandchildren. Other individuals who have played a significant role in a child’s life may request custody if certain conditions are met.


If parties cannot agree on issues related to custody of minor children, they may mediate or litigate the issues. Each county in Pennsylvania has its own procedures for resolving custody, including some form of court-ordered mediation as a first step where a trained professional assists the parties in trying to reach an appropriate agreement. If mediation fails, the issues proceed to a hearing or a trial. Sometimes the court will appoint a psychologist to conduct a psychological evaluation to assist the court and the parties in determining an appropriate custody schedule. The court may also appoint a guardian ad litem to represent the best interests of the child.

Guidelines for Custody

Some suggested guidelines for custody include:

  • Put the child’s welfare ahead of conflicts between adults
  • Avoid involving your child in any conflict between parents
  • Help your child maintain a positive relationship with the other parent
  • Honor your custody schedule
  • If you are the partial custody parent, do not fill every moment with activities–your child needs quality time with you
  • Do not use your child as a spy or to act as a messenger relaying information to the other parent
  • Strive to make joint decisions on major issues affecting your child

Experienced Guidance During a Difficult Time

At Bunde & Roberts, P.C., our lawyers are experienced and skilled in determining the type of divorce to pursue, what relief to seek, and the tactical and strategic analysis required to make these decisions.