Are Child Custody and Visitation Rights the Same Thing?

When a divorce occurs between spouses that share children, one of the most important decisions that need to be made involves how each parent will be able to spend time with them. These decisions sometimes involve a custody agreement, and sometimes involves visitation. The two are very different, but in all cases, the state of Pennsylvania insists that the determination be made based upon what is in the best interest of the child.

The main difference between visitation and custody is that visitation does not include a parent taking actual physical custody of the child. The decision to establish visitation rather than grant custody may be made for many different reasons but is usually based on the overall situation. Even in cases where custody is not deemed appropriate, it is rare for a parent to be denied the opportunity to spend time with their child. Visitation schedules and rules outline the time and circumstances that a parent can spend in the company of their child but do not allow them to have control of the child. In many cases, this is a matter of safety and might be judged appropriate based on a parent’s history of drug or alcohol abuse. Visitation is often ordered to be supervised, meaning that a neutral third party, a family member or friend is present during the time that the parent is with the child.

Custody is always a difficult topic to address, but the state has tried to make the rules more family-friendly, steering away from traditional practices and moving towards a model that is framed entirely around what is in the best interests of the child, with that determination being based on factors including the physical, financial and emotional health of each parent; their willingness to accommodate and promote relations with the other parent; how involved each parent is with the child; and how competent each parent is in childcare. The goal is to make sure that both parents have the opportunity to establish and/or maintain a relationship with their child, so even if parents are not provided with custody they are likely to get visitation time.

If you are in the midst of a divorce and are concerned about how custody of your minor children will be determined, we can help. Contact us today to set up a time for an appointment to discuss the specifics of your situation.