Child Custody in Adams County

Coming to terms with child custody agreements can be an immensely emotional undertaking. Not only are there challenges with discussing terms with your current or former spouse and advocating for the best interests of your children, but there is also the long and exhausting journey through court you must take to reach a legally binding order. Navigating the process in Adams County requires understanding Pennsylvania's laws related to child welfare, how the judge may react to compromises or stipulations, and a keen sense of the procedures used.

Despite parents working to secure their child's best interests, ensuring the best outcome requires professional legal assistance. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team is well-known in Adams County and throughout Pennsylvania, working with families on child custody cases and other family matters. Don't wait until you've begun the process to reach out for much-needed help; retain a dedicated team of attorneys to guide you. Call the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team at 888-535-3686 now or fill out our confidential online consultation form, and we will reach out to you.

Where Are Child Custody Cases Heard in Adams County?

All child custody cases in Adams County are filed through and managed by the Prothonotary's Office on the 4th floor of the Adams County Courthouse at 117 Baltimore Street in Gettysburg. For parents at the beginning of the custody process, this is where obtaining orders, modifying or disputing them, and their enforcement originate.

Each parent's case will vary depending on the situation, but each is responsible for providing the court with specific documents. Although it's not an exhaustive list, the Adams County Courthouse notes the following will apply in most cases:

  • Certificate of Compliance
  • Complaint for Custody
  • Confidential Information Form
  • Order of Court
  • Defendant and Plaintiff Criminal Record Verification
  • Affidavits of Service
  • Acceptance of Service
  • Conciliation Conference Memorandum

Typically, Pennsylvania's child custody matters are decided by a hearing officer or judge who primarily manages legal issues like divorce, alimony, child support, and protection orders. In Adams County, it's strictly the presiding judge.

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?

While parents or ex-spouses look to take child custody issues to court, it's important to note that others may file a child custody case. However, only the following are eligible:

  • Individuals who have legally adopted the child.
  • A child's grandparent if they have provided care for at least 12 months.
  • A child's grandparent if the child is at risk of abuse or neglect.
  • Guardians who have assumed parental responsibility over the child.
  • Individuals with a long-standing interest in the child's welfare when neither parent can assume caregiver responsibilities.

Before filing for custody, parents will be aware of the differences in sole versus joint custody—sometimes referred to as primary and partial custody. A judge's final order may include combinations of various aspects or custodial duties to either party but will center around two types of child custody:

  • Physical custody: Granted to one party or a shared responsibility between the two. Physical custody includes daily child care, such as providing food, clothing, and housing, as well as transporting the child to and from school, related extracurricular activities, doctor's appointments, and others.
  • Legal custody: Granted to one or both parties as a shared responsibility. Legal custody confirms who will make significant, more long-term decisions about the child's upbringing and overall care, such as school choice, religious traditions, types of medical care, and others.

Critically, although a judge may grant legal custody to one party, that person doesn't have to retain physical custody. While nothing restricts parents or other parties from settling agreements with stipulations outside the courtroom, Pennsylvania requires a legally binding order. Therefore, what parents decide outside of official proceedings must pass a judge's scrutiny, which is another reason why you will benefit from our professional assistance.

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

In most cases, the first step in a child custody case in Adams County involves filing a Complaint for Custody. However, some situations may require urgency. There are two means to address this, depending on the details:

  • Emergency Petition: This process is used when there is a time-sensitive situation, such as medical or educational needs, or the child's health or welfare is in immediate danger. Typically, the court reviews petitions and makes a decision within one business day.
  • Petition for Expedited Relief: This process is used in cases that must be decided quickly, such as when one of the parties is charged with an offense that poses a risk of physical, emotional, or psychological harm to the child.

Nevertheless, under normal circumstances, when the Adams County Prothonotary's Office receives a custody petition, the judge will schedule a Custody Presentation. This step is not a trial unless the judge orders otherwise. Moreover, Adams County asserts that you should not bring children to the Custody Presentation unless directed.

The reasons for the Custody Presentation are as follows:

  • Making the presiding judge familiar with the case.
  • Both parties should explain what the case will resolve.
  • To determine whether the parties can establish a pre-trial agreement.
  • To establish a custody schedule between the presentation and the trial.

If no agreement is made during the Custody Presentation, the judge may order a temporary custody agreement and set a time and date for a Custody Conciliation Conference. This process is where both parties meet with a court-appointed Conciliator—also known as a mediator—to facilitate a resolution. Parties will enter into a subsequent judicial order if they agree to a custody schedule or proceed to trial if not. Before the Custody Trial, the judge may require both parties to complete a Parenting Packet outlining various facets of physical and legal custody.

During the trial, each side will have a chance to present evidence, witness testimony, and other materials to vie for their position in the case. Yet, there are multiple aspects that a judge will consider, which include but are not limited to the following:

  • Conflict and disagreements between the parties in the present and past, including levels of cooperation during the custody process.
  • The probability of either party promoting or facilitating contact between the child and the other party.
  • The parental duties of each party, including work schedules, housing, and the ability to provide for the child.
  • Past or present abusive behavior involving either party related to the child.
  • The availability of either party's extended family to provide child care.

While the judge may focus on the situation between the parties involved, all proceedings prioritize the child's best interests. Therefore, aspects of the child are also taken into consideration by the judge, such as the following:

  • Relationships between the child and any siblings.
  • The child's age, maturity, and parental preference.
  • Daily education obligations, home life, and community connections.

Parents also hold their children's best interests at heart. However, there may be times when the judge's recommended course of action may seem unsatisfactory.

What If I Disagree with the Terms of a Child Custody Order in Adams County?

Parties may disagree with what a judge ordered in their child custody case. One option for redress is to file a petition with the Adams County Courthouse for the judge to reconsider the matter.

Otherwise, individuals must appeal through the Superior Court of Pennsylvania's Prothonotary's Office, which has three addresses. Adams County residents must file with the Superior Court's Harrisburg office at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center at 601 Commonwealth Avenue, Suite 1600.

What Happens If My Former Spouse Violates the Child Custody Order?

Since a child custody order is an official court directive, breaching its terms can be a serious offense. The individual found violating a child custody order may face contempt of court charges, leading to potential fines or imprisonment, depending on the situation. To initiate this process, however, the party alleging the violation must submit a Petition for Contempt of Custody Order.

When one party repeatedly breaks the child custody order, the other party retains the option to petition the court to revise the order to prevent ongoing violations. For example, the following persistent violations can easily send the case in front of a judge:

  • Failing to transport or pick up the child to school on time.
  • Missing and failing to maintain doctor's appointments.
  • Failing to return the child on time after visitation.
  • Further breaches of custody schedules.

After the court receives a completed petition, a date and time for a hearing will be scheduled. The court will review the evidence and, if necessary, compel testimony from any witnesses.

What If I Want to Change the Terms of a Child Custody Order in Adams County?

Regardless of whether either party seeks to amend a child custody schedule or court order—even when a child is in immediate danger—a judge must sign off on any alterations to those terms. To make changes to a child custody order, parties file a Petition for Modification along with an Order of Court with the Adams County Prothonotary's Office.

The court will schedule a date and time for a trial, and at the trial, the court will review the evidence and, if necessary, take testimony from any witnesses. No matter how small the alteration is to the child's life or the custody schedule, it must be signed off by a judge. It allows a thorough review of the reasons for the request to alter the order and to decide whether the proposed modifications are in the child's best interests.

There is a caveat regarding modifying an order related to one party's relocation. If the child's change of residence will significantly impair the non-relocating party's ability to carry out custodial rights, the relocating party must file a Notice of Proposed Relocation at least 60 days before moving.

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

Unfortunately, many parents in the middle of making child custody decisions may not recognize the risk of going through the process alone. Pennsylvania's legal landscape is complex, and legal orders invoked to protect the best interests of your children can become emotionally charged quickly. Even if parents believe they are working for their child's benefit, they still need professional assistance. Fortunately, the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can assist you in the following ways:

  • Crafting child custody schedules: We can help you design a child custody schedule that is desirable to you and the other party, including determining legal and physical custody provisions, but also one a judge will accept. No agreement made outside the courtroom is good if it's unacceptable in the eyes of the judge or the Prothonotary's Office.
  • Disputing or modifying orders: We will advise you to seek modifications to an existing order or defend your position when the other party requests an alteration. Even when one party seeks to adjust an existing order, a judge must hear from both parties and decide whether to grant or deny the requested modification or require the parties to negotiate further.
  • Filing or defending against child custody order violations: Custody orders often contain difficult-to-understand language, making you increasingly susceptible to violations and subsequent punishments. Our attorneys are familiar with the requirements for filing a Petition for Contempt of Custody Order. We can help you file for or defend against a petition filed with the court for any reason.

The LLF Law Firm stands prepared with years of experience helping parents with child custody issues in Adams County. Our team of dedicated attorneys is a value proposition like no other and will work tirelessly to support your position for the child custody order, defend your rights as a parent, and protect your child's best interests above all.

We are ready to assist in your child custody matters, help you achieve the best possible outcome, and guide you through every step of Adams County's process. For a committed approach to your child custody issues, call the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team at 888-535-3686 or submit a confidential online consultation form, and we will contact you.

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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