Joint Authorized Custody With Determination-Making Authority by One Guardian For Sure Choices Upheld

There are two forms of custody in Pennsylvania: legal custody and physical custody. Under the Child Custody Act of Pennsylvania, “legal custody” is defined as: “the right to make important decisions on behalf of the child, including but not limited to medical, religious, and educational decisions”. “Physical custody” is defined as “actual physical possession and control of the child”. In general, custody is either “joint custody” or “sole custody”. Joint custody means that the parties must consult before making joint decisions that will significantly affect the child’s life. Sole custody is when only one parent makes the most important decisions for the child’s life related to medical, religious and educational choices.

In the 1990s, some court cases began to release custody, joint custody orders, but allowed one of the parents to be the “tie breaker” and have ultimate power of decision. Usually when there is a dead end in a custody issue and the parties have joint custody, the court is the tiebreaker after a party files a motion to resolve the dead end. In Hill v. Hill, 619 A.2d 1086 (Pa. Super. 1993), the first court granted joint custody to the parents, but stated, “In the event of disagreement, the preference of the mother prevails.” The Pennsylvania Supreme Court overturned the court of first instance’s decision because it found that the court had “only given the father the power of attorney in name and withdrawn an appeal because he had already been granted ‘half-shared custody'”. In the Hill case, the Superior Court further stated, “The concept of shared custody does not include the principle of giving one parent ultimate authority in a dispute.” After the Hill ruling, a line appeared to have been drawn in the sand, that one Court can grant either sole custody or joint custody to one parent, but neither party has decision-making power.

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