“I want to file for custody of my children. How do I get started?”
The first step in the process is to file a Child Custody Complaint with the Prothonotary’s Office, located at the Lancaster County Courthouse. As part of this complaint, you will need to identify the reasons for which you are requesting a Custody Order or a change in custody. Additionally, you will lay out whether you are requesting primary physical custody, shared physical custody, or partial physical custody of your child or children.
Additionally, if this is a situation that requires a temporary or emergency child custody Order, you will need to make that known in the complaint. It is very important to speak with a Lancaster, PA child custody attorney to determine if it’s best for you to do so.
“Ok, I’ve filed the complaint. When is my hearing date?”
If you do request a temporary or emergency Custody Order, your next hearing date will be in front of a Family Business Court Judge to determine whether or not the temporary Order will be granted. You are required to give the opposing party 5 days notice of the Family Business Court presentation.
If this is not a case that requires a temporary or emergency Order, you will receive a packet in the mail with a conference date for a child custody conference. These conferences are typically scheduled within a month or so of the filing of the compliant.
While these conferences are somewhat informal in that there is typically no evidence presented or witnesses called, they are extremely crucial to the custody process. It is always best to have an experienced Lancaster, PA child custody attorney with you at the conference. While the main purpose of the conference is to encourage the parties to reach an agreement of some sort, if an agreement is unable to be reached, the conference officer will give a recommendation to the Court. This recommendation will serve as the Custody Order until the next hearing.
“What if we don’t agree to a custody setup at the conference? Where do we go from there?”
If the parties are unable to reach an agreement at the custody conference, the parties will either attend a second custody conference at the Lancaster County Courthouse or proceed to a formal trial in front of a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas. If the case advances to a trial stage, it is at this time that the parties will testify under oath, call other witnesses who support their request for custody, and introduce evidence such as text messages and pictures. This is a much more formal process than the custody conference where parties will need to follow rules of evidence and rules of civil procedure. It is imperative that each party have a custody attorney from Lancaster County to help present their case to get the best results possible. Judges and conference officers in Lancaster, PA all rely on the best interest of the children standard in determining the appropriate custodial time for each parent.
“What if the other parent has been convicted of serious criminal charges? How are these addressed?”
Any criminal offense can potentially be considered by a conference officer or Judge when awarding custody. However, certain serious offenses need to be addressed through a “Risk of Harm” or 5329 hearing. Such a hearing would take place prior to any custody conference. The sole purpose of such a hearing is for a Judge to determine whether these prior criminal offenses make the parent with such criminal charges a risk of harm to the child or children involved. The Court may, if the charges are serious enough, find the parent to be a risk of harm or require that parent to complete certain steps such as anger management or counseling before the Court will determine if these convictions make that parent a risk of harm to the child.
If you or a loved one needs assistance steering through a Lancaster, PA child custody case, contact an experienced Lancaster, PA custody lawyer that has helped hundreds of parents regain or keep certain custody rights.