Understanding Child Custody Provisions in Pennsylvania

Child custody provisions in Pennsylvania act as a way to navigate the arrangements for childcare with clear boundaries and legal expectations. Whether you resolve your child custody dispute by agreement or after lengthy litigation in court, you should expect that the resulting custody Order will include many, if not all, of the following provisions:

Legal Custody

Legal custody provisions will identify a parent’s right to make major decisions on behalf of your child.  “Major decisions” include, but are not limited to, medical, religious, and educational decisions regarding your child.  Shared legal custody, between a mother and father, for example, would provide both mother and father with the right to make these major decisions for the child, with neither parent having sole discretion to make such decisions over the objection of the other parent.  Sole legal custody, on the other hand, provides one person with exclusive authority to decide these issues.

Physical Custody

Child custody provisions will identify who has actual “physical possession and control of a child” on a day-to-day basis.  In most cases, a physical custody provision will establish a schedule for the parties—in other words, which party will have the child on certain days during the week.  A party with primary physical custody will have custody for the majority of time, while a party with partial physical custody will have custody less than a majority of time.  Parties in a custody action can also share physical custody, where they each have significant periods of custodial time with the child, oftentimes on an equal (i.e., 50/50) basis.  In some cases, it might be appropriate for one party to have sole physical custody, that is exclusive physical custody of the child, or for one party to have supervised physical custody during which an agency or another competent adult monitors the interaction between the child and the party.

Holidays and Vacation

Custody Orders frequently include provisions for physical custody over major holidays, including Easter, Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas Day.  There may also be a provision for the parties to have uninterrupted vacation periods with the child during the summer or during periods when the child is not in school.

Transportation and Exchanges

Custody Orders will typically include a provision regarding which party is to provide transportation for purposes of exchanging custody.  As part of this provision, it is common for a custody Order to address where a custody exchange is to occur, for example, at either party’s home or at a neutral location.

Telephone Contact

Most custody Orders, at least those issued locally, include a provision that permits the non-custodial parent to have reasonable telephone contact with the child when the other party is exercising physical custody.  A provision regarding reasonable telephone contact may also include video calls or FaceTime calls, and it may identify specific days and times such calls must occur.


Parties in a custody action are required to comply with the notification requirements prescribed by the Pennsylvania custody statute when a proposed change in residence will “significantly impair the ability of a non-relocating party to exercise custodial rights.”  Most custody Orders will include a provision that restates this requirement.

If parties resolve their custody dispute by agreement, there is an opportunity to tailor the provisions in the Order to meet their specific needs.  When there is no agreement, the Court will establish provisions that it believes serve the best interests of the child in question.


No two child custody cases are alike. The above article is in no way intended to be legal advice. The best way to get answers specific to your case is to contact our office for a consultation. We offer several convenient options, including phone, in-person, and Zoom. In your initial consultation, we will get to know your case and determine if we can help to get a more favorable outcome.

NOTE:  The above definitions for legal custody and physical custody can be found at 23 Pa. C.S. 5322

Posted in News on by Pyfer Reese.