Joint Custody and Shared Custody – What’s the Difference?

Happy Family

Though the terms “joint custody” and “shared custody” are often used interchangeably, legally speaking there is a difference between the two, and the state of Pennsylvania has its own terminology and definitions of the way that parents may be assigned legal responsibility, physical responsibility, or both for children under the age of eighteen.  Custody is an extremely important legal right and it is the state’s goal to ensure that all custody decisions are made with the best interests of the child in mind. At Smith & Horwitz, this is our priority as well. If you need help negotiating a custody arrangement, call us today for experienced, compassionate legal counsel and representation.

Custody decisions are often the most emotional aspect of the breakup of a family with children, as it determines who has the right to care for and control what is happening in the child’s life, as well as how much time a parent is able to spend with the child. It not only refers to being in physical proximity and responsible for the child’s safety, but can also refer to making important life decisions for the child, including those having to do with medical treatment, religious upbringing, and education. In the state of Pennsylvania, the question of physical custody and legal custody are considered as two separate issues.

Physical custody addresses the physical possession and control of the child and determines where and with whom the child will live for part or all of the time. In arrangements that have shared physical custody, both parents have a significant amount of time that they have physical control of the child, with the intent being to ensure that both parents are able to have equal time with the child. In most cases, the time is not split exactly between both parents, but an equitable division that works for all parties is negotiated.

Legal custody refers to having the right and responsibility for making important choices that go beyond the day-to-day and which may have an impact on the child for the rest of their life. Examples include religious upbringing, where to go for schooling, and medical interventions.  Unless a parent is shown to be severely deficient in their ability or intent, Pennsylvania generally awards shared legal custody of a child, with the understanding that parents will consult with one another and come to an agreement.

Because the question of custody is always supposed to be answered in the way that best serves the interest of the child, it is often desirable to negotiate an agreement between both parties and to prevent the need for a protracted or emotional court battle. At Smith & Horwitz we are passionate about finding the answer that meets our clients’ needs and minimizes confusion or disruption for children, and joint custody or shared custody often provides that answer. For more information on the Pennsylvania divorce process and how we can help, call our offices today to set up a convenient appointment.

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