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There are no specific definitions of the types of custody awarded to parents by the Courts.  There are no absolutes in custody litigation, but the following are guidelines and a general idea of what you can expect.

Sole custody is when one parent is awarded custody of a child with no custodial rights granted to the opposing party.  Sole Custody is awarded only in rare circumstances, usually when one of the parent is in jail, has abandoned their family and their whereabouts are unknown, or where there is an ongoing and serious pattern of abuse.

Primary custody is commonly awarded by the Court, and it is generally defined as one parent having more than 60% of the overnight custodial periods.  There are numerous reasons why a party might be awarded primary custody, however, the most common is when the parties do not live close enough to each other to share custodial time equally, or when the child’s schooling or a party’s employment prevents them from having shared custody.  The party that does not have primary custody is said to have partial custody, and generally enjoys their custodial periods on weekends and during extended periods in the summer time.

Shared Custody
Shared Custody is when the parties equally or almost equally share custody.  It is possible to accomplish this by sharing custody on a week on/week off basis, a 5-2-2-5 basis or when one party has primary custody during the school year and the other has primary custody during the summer time.

Visitation is rare and is most commonly awarded where one party has been absent from the children’s lives for a substantial period of time, or where there is a genuine, legitimate, and provable concern regarding drug and alcohol abuse or physical violence.  Visitation is typically supervised (otherwise it is partial custody) and that supervision can take place at several facilities throughout Western Pennsylvania or it can be supervised by an agreeable family member at a location of the parties choosing (like a grandmothers house). 

Grandparent custody
Grandparent custody is a relatively new area of custodial litigation where there are few experts.  Grandparents have standing to seek custody in two distinct ways;

[1] A grandparent may sue at any time where they feel that a child is at risk due to substantial abuse or neglect by the custodial parents.  Typically this occurs where a child services agency is involved and it is common that these cases have companion matters in juvenile court.  If a grandparent is able to prove their case they can be awarded primary physical and legal custody of their grandchildren until such time as the parents prove they are capable of caring for their children again. 

[2] Where the biological parents are separated or divorced Grandparent can sue for partial custody or visitation with the their grandchildren if they have had an ongoing relationship with the children and the Court determines that it is in the best interest of the children that this relationship be maintained.

There are few areas of family law that can be more complicated or emotional than Grandparent custody litigation.  The law is constantly evolving, and different jurisdictions treat the matters differently, with some liberally awarding custody to grandparents, and others refusing to grant the claims entirely.  Only with legal counsel will you be able to navigate these waters effectively, and it is important that you consult with a competent legal professional before beginning a grandparent custody case.