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Basic Child Custody Terms

When it comes to child custody, an understanding of the terms being used is helful, and can also prevent misunderstandings that take away from a reasonable resolution to your case. Sometimes agreements fail because one of the parties has a misunderstanding about what one of the terms in the agreement means. When you're on the same page as the lawyers and court, everything is that much easier.

Abuse - the occurrence of one or more of the following acts between family or household members, sexual or intimate partners or persons who share biological parenthood: (1) attempting to cause or intentionally, knowingly or recklessly causing bodily injury, serious bodily injury, rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, sexual assault, statutory sexual assault, aggravated indecent assault, indecent assault or incest with or without a deadly weapon; (2) placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury; (3) the infliction of false imprisonment pursuant to 18 Pa.C.S. § 2903 (relating to false imprisonment); (4) physically or sexually abusing minor children; (5) knowingly engaging in a course of conduct or repeatedly committing acts toward another person, including following the person, without proper authority, under circumstances which place the person in reasonable fear of bodily injury

Adult - an individual 18 years of age or older

Agency - any organization, society, institution, court facility or other entity which provides for the care of a child; the term does not include a county children and youth social service agency

Child - any unemancipated person under 18 years of age

Contempt - when a party to a custody order violates that custody order; if the order requires father to return the child at 10AM on Monday and father does not show up until 2PM, he is in contempt of the order: in the event the behavior is consistent and repeated mother may file a petition for contempt asking the court to punish father for not following the order; a party can only be in contempt of the requirements contained within the custody order, if there is no order in place there can be no contempt

Custody Agreement - an agreement between the parties that is signed by the judge into an order; all parties must agree to every aspect of the agreement or it is not an agreement; once signed into order it is binding to the same effect as if a judge had written the order herself

In Loco Parentis - a person, not a parent, who assumes full parental responsibility for a child with the consent of the parents and maintains that status for a period of at least 6 months; the child must remain in the care of the third party, in other words, you are not acting in loco parentis for your friend's daughter just because they lived with you for 8 months and you did a lot of the parenting; the term also does not apply to foster parents because a state agency has removed the children from the parents, and that does not meet the consent portion of the analysis; a person acting in loco parentis assumes the full role of one or both parents, with the parents' consent, and does so for more than 6 months

Jurisdiction - the proper court to hear a custody matter; outside of an emergency, the case must be filed in the county where the child has resided for the last 6 months (or the county the child was living in before a relocation when the child has not resided in the new county for at least 6 months) or where an order has been generated concerning the child previously; if both parents and the child live in Wyoming County, and have for more than 6 months, a custody matter cannot be filed in Luzerne County

Legal Custody - the right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions; any party with shared legal custody must be given access to medical, dental, school, and religious records, the address of the child and the other party, and anything else the court deems proper; access cannot be denied based upon the amount of physical custody; if a request is made upon a party in possession of any of this documentation it must be shared

Order - a custody order is a document generated by the court and signed by a judge which lays out the distribution of physical and legal custody for the parties; the custody order is controlling until modified, so the parties must follow its directions; acting in a way that is not consistent with the order means that party is in contempt; a custody order can be modified until the child reaches the age of 18

Parental Duties - includes meeting the physical, emotional, and social needs of the child; the court may look at who feeds, bathes, and dresses the child; who reads to the child or does homework with the child; who takes the child to the doctor, dentist, and any other specialists; who is responsible for getting the child to and from school; who organizes play dates, trips, interaction with extended family members; the term is very broad and looks at how each party interacts with the child on a daily basis

Partial Physical Custody - the right to assume physical custody of the child for less than a majority of the time; has replaced the term visitation; includes anything up to 49.9% physical custody; percentages are determined by looking at a calendar and determining where the child is sleeping: if a child sleeps at mother's house 300 days out of the year mother has 300/365, or 82% physical custody, while father has 65/365, or 18% physical custody (father's 18% physical custody is partial physical custody)

Physical Custody - the actual physical possession and control of a child; if a party has custody every weekend from Friday through Sunday, that party is exercising physical custody from Friday through Sunday when the child is actually with the party

Primary Physical Custody - the right to assume physical custody of the child for the majority of time; simply put, this is the party who has physical custody more than 50% of the time; percentages are determined by looking at a calendar and determining where the child is sleeping: if a child sleeps at mother's house 187 days out of the year mother has 187/365, or 51% physical custody, while father has 178/365, or 49% physical custody; because mother has more than 50% physical custody she has primary custody

Relocation - a change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of a nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights; the move must have an effect on the non-moving parent's custody: if father is moving to a different part of the same town there will be no general effect; if father is moving to a different school district and mother will no longer have the ability to pick the child up from school that will significantly affect her custodial rights; obvioulsy a move out of state will affect the other party's rights

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; both parents, grandparents, and any person who has acted in loco parentis are entitled to shared physical custody

Sole Legal Custody - the right of one individual to exclusive legal custody of the child

Sole Physical Custody - the right of one individual to exclusive physical custody of the child

Standing - the right of a person to ask the court for custody of a child; the natural parents automatically have standing to request custody; grandparents have standing under certain circumstances; third parties have standing if they have acted in loco parentis for the child; without standing you do not have the right to petition the court for any form of custody of a child

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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