Child Custody Cases in Bradford County

One of the most contentious and difficult parts of any divorce proceeding is the ones that relate to child custody. A divorcing couple often has significantly different views on what custody arrangements should be and which of them will have responsibility for making decisions about the child's care, upbringing, and future. This is why there is a specific process that must be followed to clarify these issues, if not by negotiating them with the divorcing couple, then by leaving the decision with one of Bradford County's Court of Common Pleas judges.

At the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team, our experienced attorneys understand how difficult child custody issues can be for our clients. We're ready to help you negotiate a custody agreement but are equally ready to advocate for your proposed agreement with the court when an agreement can't be reached. Call us today at 888.535.3686 or schedule a confidential consultation to learn more about how we can help you with your child custody issues in Bradford County.

Where Are Child Custody Cases Heard in Bradford County?

Child custody, divorce, child support, and other family law cases are heard at the Bradford County Courthouse, located at 301 Main Street in Towanda. Family court proceedings are just some of the cases heard by the Court of Common Pleas. Any documents you may need to file in connection with a child custody case must be filed with the Prothonotary's office, located in the same building.

In almost all cases, child custody matters will first be referred to a Conference Officer, who is an attorney appointed by the court to assist with child custody orders. Both parents will meet with the Conference Officer, who will work with them to come to an agreement on custody terms that are likely to be accepted by the judge.

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?

There are two types of child custody: Physical Custody and Legal Custody. Both are covered by custody orders, so it's important to understand what they mean.

  • Physical Custody. This relates to the everyday care of the child: making sure the child is clothed, fed, bathed, attends school, makes it to their doctor appointments, etc. Physical custody can be shared, with the child spending significant amounts of time with each parent separately, or one parent may have sole physical custody, and the other will have set visitation rights. Sometimes, depending on the situation, those visits may need to be supervised by a court-appointed monitor.
  • Legal Custody. This covers who gets to make significant decisions about how the child will be raised and covers issues such as religious instruction, schooling, types of medical care, and similar matters that can have an important effect on how the child develops. In many cases, both parents will share Legal Custody (with the judge acting as the decision-maker when the parents disagree). In other cases, one parent may have Legal Custody (even if the other has Physical Custody).

What Are the Requirements for Seeking Custody of a Child in Bradford County?

The Court of Common Pleas in Bradford County needs to have jurisdiction over the child in order to issue a custody order that relates to that child. In most cases, this means that the child must have lived in Bradford County for at least six months before the custody order issues. There are exceptions to this, however: for newborns, for a child who has been abused or abandoned, or in situations where the child's parent or sibling has been abused.

Only certain people are allowed to apply for a custody order. The list includes parents, of course, but also grandparents; long-term caregivers who have assumed the responsibilities of a parent; or, where neither parent is able to care for the child, someone responsible who states that they are willing to take on the responsibilities of a parent and who can show a long-term interest in the welfare of the child.

What Is the Procedure Used to Resolve Child Custody Cases in Bradford County?

While the typical way to apply for a custody order is by filing a “Complaint for Custody,” there are two faster ways to do so in more urgent situations.

Where a child's health, safety, or welfare is in immediate danger, a caregiver can file a “Petition for Emergency Relief,” which will be heard and decided on very quickly, often within a day of when it's filed. In less-urgent cases, but ones where the danger is still present, a “Petition for Expedited Relief” can be filed, which will also be heard and resolved more quickly than a Complaint for Custody.

Most cases, of course, aren't ones where the child is in immediate danger, and for those, the Complaint for Custody is used. This is filed with the Prothonotary and served on the other parent. In most cases, the judge will appoint a Conference Officer to meet with the parents and try to come to an agreement on custody terms that will be acceptable to both parents and the judge. In situations where the parents can't agree on one or more custody terms, the Conference Officer will decide those terms. After the meeting, the Conference Officer will present the judge with a proposed custody order, which the judge can then approve or revise. The judge is the only person who can issue the custody order; whatever the Conference Officer submits is only a recommendation.

When the judge issues the custody order, it's important for both parents to read it, make sure they understand what it requires, and follow its terms. Violation of a custody order is the same as violating any court order and can lead to a finding of contempt – with sanctions such as fines or even jail time.

The other thing to keep in mind is that the guiding principle that both the Conference Officer and the judge will use when deciding what goes into the custody order is the best interests of the child – not the parents. This is why an arrangement that might be convenient for both parents might be rejected by the judge if the judge believes it's not in the child's best interests. When the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team works with clients on child custody matters, we keep this guiding principle in mind to try to make sure that any custody arrangement our client is seeking is one that will meet the best interests of the child standard.

What if I Disagree with the Terms of a Child Custody Order in Bradford County?

When the Conference Officer submits their proposed custody order to the judge for the court's review and approval, you'll have 20 days to file what are called “Exceptions” to the proposed custody order. Your exceptions – or objections – must not only tell the judge what you disagree with but must also explain what you think should go in their place and why what you're proposing is in the best interests of the child who the order covers. If you file Exceptions, the judge will typically hold a hearing to resolve them. At that hearing, you'll be able to submit evidence and make arguments in favor of your position, and the other parent will be able to do the same for their position.

If the judge rules on your Exceptions and issues a final custody order that you still disagree with, you can ask the judge to reconsider, or you can appeal the order to the Superior Court in Harrisburg (or you can do both). You have 30 days to file your appeal, even if you've asked the judge to reconsider. During this period, the custody order will be in effect, meaning you'll need to follow it even though you disagree with all or part of it.

Making arguments against a proposed custody order or appealing one that's already issued can be complicated, particularly since you'll need to make sure your proposed version of a custody order meets the requirements of Pennsylvania law and is also in the best interests of the child involved. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team is ready to help. Our experienced attorneys understand the standards you'll need to meet and the procedures that must be followed in order to properly and forcefully make your objections and argue for a custody order that will benefit you and your child.

What Happens if My Ex Violates the Child Custody Order in Bradford County?

It's never a good idea to violate the terms of a child custody order. Because it's a court order, if one parent violates it, that parent can be held in contempt of court – and fined or even jailed as a result. Courts take violations of custody orders particularly seriously because the focus of these orders is on what's in the best interests of the child. A violation can threaten a child's physical or emotional well-being, and judges will typically be very protective of that when custody violation issues arise.

Custody order violations need to be brought to the court's attention before a contempt order can be issued. That's done by filing a Petition for Contempt that explains how the order was violated and who did it. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help make sure that any Petition of Contempt is properly supported and filed with the court.

Another possible outcome of a Petition for Contempt is a revision of the custody order to make it more difficult for the order to be violated in the future. For example, if one parent refuses to return a child on time, the order will be revised to require that the parent's time with the child be supervised.

Custody order violations can be extremely frustrating and stressful to have to deal with. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help you through these situations or situations where your ex is accusing you of violating the custody order. We can protect you and your child in either case when a Petition for Contempt is filed with the Court of Common Pleas in Bradford County.

What if I Want to Change the Terms of a Custody Order in Bradford County?

It's not unusual for custody orders to change over time, particularly as the child grows or as the parent's circumstances change. There is a mechanism to do that, which is filing a Petition for Modification of the order. What you don't want to do is simply change how you're handling custody, even if you and your ex agree. There are several reasons for that.

First, even if you and your ex agree to change how you handle custody, there is still a court order that tells you both what you should be doing. An agreement to ignore that is a violation of that order by both of you and can lead to a finding that you're both in contempt.

Second, since the child's best interests are paramount in custody situations, the court needs to review your proposed change with that standard in mind.

Third, even if the two of you agree to change how you handle custody now, your ex may decide to “take it back,” – leaving you in a situation where you're involved in a dispute with your ex that ends up before the judge . . . where you would have to explain why you didn't seek a formal modification of the custody order earlier.

The proper way to handle changes to the custody arrangements – even when you and your ex agree on what they should be – is through a Petition for Modification. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help with this; we regularly assist clients with modifying the terms of existing custody orders, and can work with you (and your ex's attorney) to present the judge with a strong petition that explains what the proposed changes are and how they're in the child's best interests.

How the LLF Law Firm Can Help You With Custody Issues in Bradford County

At the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team, we know how important the welfare of your child is to you. We regularly help parents with regular and emergency child custody orders, and with modifying existing custody orders to reflect changing circumstances. If your ex violates an order – or accuses you of doing so – we can effectively represent you before the judge to remedy the situation, as we have for clients all across Pennsylvania, including in Bradford County.

Our experienced attorneys also understand that the most effective custody orders are those based on the parties' agreement. That's why some of our best work takes place in conference rooms, negotiating custody order terms that work for both parents and also are in the best interests of their child. Having a judge approve the exact child custody order that we helped our client negotiate is an ideal outcome for what is admittedly a difficult situation.

Call the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team today at 888.535.3686 or schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your child custody situation with one of our experienced attorneys. Let us help you help your child achieve the bright future that they deserve.

Contact a skilled Family Law Team Today!

The LLF Law Firm has unparalleled experience practicing Family Law in Pennsylvania. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you and your family, contact our offices today. Our Family Law Team will go above and beyond the needs for any client and fight for what is fair.

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