Family Law Glossary

Legal Custody

The right of each parent to participate in the important decisions involving health, welfare and upbringing of the child. This can include where the child will attend school, what religion he or she will be brought up under, what doctor he or she will see for care, etc.

Physical Custody

This is the actual physical control of the child; where the child will live.

Primary Physical Custody

One parent has the child or children in his or her custodial care for the majority of the time.

Shared Physical Custody

When two parents each have a shared amount of custodial time with the child; a 50-50 arrangement or some variation thereof.

Partial Physical Custody

This is when one parent has scheduled custodial time with the child. An arrangement that could look like every other weekend or three weekends per month, for example.

Previously, partial physical custody was used interchangeably with the term "visitation." Yet with the new custody statute changes that took effect in January 2011, the word visitation was removed entirely and should not be confused.

Supervised Physical Custody

Awarded to a parent whom the court has perhaps found not fit to be around a child without adequate supervision. A requirement of supervision does not have to be permanent, and a parent can work toward being granted more time through avenues of rehabilitation such as parenting classes, anger management or treatment, and counseling.

Sole Legal Custody

Rarely awarded and usually only so when a parent is found to be a risk of harm to the child.

Primary Legal Custody

When it is not in the best interests of the child to award shared legal custody, one parent takes on the day-to-day responsibility entirely.

Shared Legal Custody

Generally, this is the most common form of awarded legal custody as Pennsylvania accepts a presumption that both parents should share in the decision-making power related to their child.


When parties are in agreement as to how they wish to resolve their family law dispute, they can enter into a stipulation drafted by an attorney and submit it to the court for approval and final order.


Pennsylvania Automated Child Support Enforcement System

Equitable Distribution

The process of dividing financial marital assets at the time of divorce.

Alimony Pendente Lite or "APL"

A form of spousal support that can be granted after the divorce complaint has been filed, but before the divorce itself is finalized in order to support a spouse through the divorce process.

Spousal Support

A form of support that can be granted to a spouse before the divorce complaint is filed.


Support granted only after a divorce is finalized and if it is deemed by the court to be warranted based on a variety of factors related to the marriage. In Pennsylvania, the rule of thumb is that for every three years of marriage, there is a presumption of one year of alimony.


Marital settlement agreement or a property settlement agreement; used as a tool to craft the terms of a divorce settlement.

Contact Previtera & Schimmel for further information by calling 800-580-9136.