Child custody refers to the relationship between a parent and child and the care and control of that child. Generally, custody is awarded based on what is perceived to be in the best interest of the child. In states such as Pennsylvania, the laws specify custody in terms of physical possession of a child. As such, fathers have the right to seek primary physical custody, partial physical custody or shared physical custody of their children.
Primary Physical Custody
In Pennsylvania, a father has the right to seek primary physical custody of his child, which means his child will reside with him and visit the mother. It also means that he will be responsible for caring for his child or children and have the ability to request child support from the mother. The term "primary physical custody" further clarifies arrangements when there is joint physical custody. In Pennsylvania, fathers seeking primary physical custody can only seek custody if their child has resided in the state for six consecutive months. Exceptions are if a child is less than six months old and has lived in Pennsylvania since birth or if the welfare or lives of the children are in danger. In some counties, such as Allegheny county, a father who applies for custody must undergo mediation with a court-appointed mediator. If an agreement cannot be reached, fathers have the right to hire counsel and ask for a psychological evaluation of the mother, to obtain school records for the child, to ask the child's preference as to whom he or she wishes to reside with (however, the child's reason for custody must be justifiable for it to be considered by the court), and for matters pertaining to religion and medical care.
Partial Physical Custody
Partial physical custody denotes that a parent can have physical possession of the child for short periods of time, generally a few days to a few weeks at a time. Partial custody differs from visitation in that visitation does not allow the child to be removed from the house of the primary physical custodian. It is important for fathers to recognize their right to partial physical custody and that partial physical custody is not based on whether they are paying child support. The state of Pennsylvania considers child support and custody to be separate matters.
Shared Physical Custody
Shared physical custody, also known as joint physical custody, serves to equalize the contact and communication a child has with both parents. It also splits overnight possession of the child equally. It is important for fathers to understand the problem that shared physical custody imposes on child support obligations. Because the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has not ruled on a practical system for calculating child support in shared-custody situations, fathers can refer to cases such as Seawalt v Muldoon in which the court granted the father credit for his expenditures while the child was in his custody for periods equal to those of the mother.