Child Custody in Berks County

Child custody is among the most important issues a couple going through divorce or separation will face. Even when both parties agree on custody terms, custody situations can be stressful right up until an agreement is signed and approved by the court—and, unfortunately, sometimes even beyond that.

In Berks County, the Court of Common Pleas decides child custody matters. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can guide you through the process while ensuring both your parental rights and your children's best interests are protected. For a confidential consultation to discuss your case, call us today at 888.535.3686 or contact us online.

Where Are Child Custody Cases Handled in Berks County?

The Family Court located at the Berks County Courthouse at 633 Court Street in Reading, handles all custody matters from filing through enforcement in Berks County.

Anyone seeking child custody of a child must file a complaint with the Prothonotary in the Berks County Courthouse. The Prothonotary is an elected official who is responsible for handling the paperwork associated with all civil matters in the county. Before they become enforceable, all custody orders, whether they are formulated by the court or agreed to by the parties, must be signed by a judge of the Berks County Court of Common Pleas.

What Are the Two Types of Child Custody?

All Berks County custody orders will outline provisions that apply to both legal custody and physical custody. It is important to understand that these two types of custody are separate, and one parent may have one while the other has the other, or there may be some shared version of one or both.

Physical custody refers to who the child stays with and who is responsible for the child's day-to-day care. These responsibilities include providing food, shelter, and clothing, as well as ensuring the child's transport to and from school, medical and dental visits, extracurricular activities, and more. One parent may have sole physical custody of the child and be responsible for taking care of the child all the time.

More often, however, both parents have some sort of physical custody of the child. With shared physical custody, both parents enjoy roughly the same amount of time with the child. When the child is in their care, that parent is responsible for the well-being of the child. Primary physical custody means that the child lives with that party most of the time; the other party has partial custody and spends time with the child at specific dates and times.

Visitation rights are another way that a parent without primary physical custody may spend time with the child. These visits occur when another responsible adult is present, and they may either be requested by a party or ordered by the court. Depending on the circumstances, that adult may be agreed upon by the parties or simply chosen by the court.

Legal custody, on the other hand, refers to the party who makes important decisions for the child that affect their schooling, religion, healthcare, and extracurricular activities. With shared legal custody, the parents share these decisions. If one parent has sole legal custody, they are the only party who has a say in the final decision on these matters.

When Can I Seek Child Custody in Berks County?

If you are seeking to begin a child custody case in Berks County, the child in question must have resided within the county for at least the previous six months. If the child is under six months of age, the court will allow a custody complaint if there are allegations of abuse or abandonment, either concerning the child, the parent, or a sibling.

The person bringing a custody complaint must have the legal right to do so, and most often, in custody cases, that person is the child's parent. In some situations, however, there are others who may be able to file a complaint seeking custody of a child. Some examples include a grandparent or another adult who has been standing in the place of a parent and taking care of the child.

In a case where neither parent can care for a child, an adult who has a long-standing interest in the child's health and safety and who is also willing to assume the parental duties of taking care of the child can file a custody complaint to request custody.

How Are Child Custody Cases Resolved in Berks County?

In Berks County, most custody cases begin with a custody complaint filed in the Prothonotary's Office in the Berks County Courthouse. If the child's well-being is in immediate danger, however, an emergency petition for relief should be filed. This type of filing ensures that the court will hear the case within a day or so instead of the time it normally takes for a custody complaint to work its way through the family court system.

Alternately, if there are custody issues that the parties need to decide relatively quickly but not urgently—perhaps involving enrollment in school or something else with a deadline—a petition requesting expedited relief can help the case move up the list for a hearing.

In non-emergency and non-expedited cases, the next step after a custody complaint is a conciliation conference, during which parties meet with a custody master to try to come to a joint agreement on how to handle custody issues. The parties may have legal representation at this conference, but there aren't presentations of formal evidence or witnesses.

Note that a Berks County custody agreement usually goes far beyond simply granting physical and legal custody. Divorcing or separating couples with children often consider what the custody split will look like during holidays, school breaks, and summer vacations. Other issues commonly covered in custody agreements include:

  • Where and when the child will be exchanged, as well as who is responsible for transport
  • How and when the child is permitted to contact the non-custodial parent during the other parent's custodial time
  • How and when the parties will communicate, which may be through phone, email, or even a court-ordered third-party app

Custody agreements in Pennsylvania also explicitly prohibit the parties from saying or doing disparaging things regarding one another. Additionally, neither parent is permitted to move to a new location if it will significantly affect the other party's ability to spend time with the child.

If the parties can agree to all the custody terms during the conciliation conference, the custody master prepares an order that details the terms and presents it to the judge. This part of the process is incredibly important to understand because even if both parties agree, having experienced attorneys from the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help ensure that the order will be accepted and signed by the judge. Our lawyers know the types of issues that a judge reviewing a proposed custody order is likely to raise, and we can help you bring your case to the best conclusion for you and your child.

Note that the custody master at the conciliation conference doesn't have the legal authority to make binding decisions or rulings, and if the parties don't agree at that time, the master generally makes recommendations to the judge assigned to the case that detail how they believe the issues should be decided. Both sides have 20 days to file “exceptions” to the recommended order, explaining why they believe the judge should decide differently. If no exceptions are filed, however, the judge will sign the recommended order after the expiration of 20 days.

If no final order is filed, the next step is a Pre-Trial Conference before the judge. At this conference, the judge will likely try to get the parties to reach a joint agreement and avoid a trial. If the judge understands that no agreement will be reached, they will move on to discussing the logistics of an upcoming custody trial, which may include witnesses and exhibits as well as a timetable for the next steps, including a trial date.

A custody trial in Pennsylvania places the best interests of the child at the center of the process. Each party may call witnesses and present documents in favor of their position. Additionally, the judge may wish to speak to the child involved in the case, though the weight given to the testimony is determined by the judge. There is no specific age a child must be to testify in a custody case in Pennsylvania. The entire custody trial could take hours or days, depending on the complexity of the case. The judge will decide how to rule on custody and enter an order detailing their findings.

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team is ready to protect your parental rights while also making sure the court keeps your child's best interests in focus. Our experienced attorneys know Pennsylvania custody law and procedures, and we are here to help.

What If I Disagree With a Berks County Child Custody Order?

If you're unhappy with a custody order entered by the court, you can file a motion for reconsideration, which will be heard by the same judge that filed the order, or an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania. If you are filing an appeal, you must do so within 30 days of the entrance of the order whether or not you also filed a motion for reconsideration.

If you're unhappy with a Berks County custody order, the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can guide you through the appellate process. We are also here if you need to defend an order from a challenge by the other party.

What If the Other Parent Violates a Custody Order in Berks County?

Make no mistake: Violating a Berks County custody order is serious. A custody order is just like any other court order, and that means if someone doesn't follow it, they can face significant consequences that range from paying a fine to serving jail time. If the other parent is violating your custody order, the first thing to do is file a Petition for Contempt with the same court that issued it.

Beyond this, if the other party is repeatedly violating the order, you can request that the court modify the terms to rectify the violations. If the other parent, for example, continually refuses to return your child to the time or place as stated in the order, you may choose to pursue contempt charges and request that custody time be altered. Also, if you feel that your child isn't safe with the other parent, you may request that the court order supervised visits.

If you're looking to file contempt charges or are defending yourself against them, the LLF Law Firm can help. We know how to handle child custody contempt proceedings in Berks County, and we are prepared to help you through the process.

Can I Get the Terms of Berks County Custody Order Changed?

In short, yes, you can get the terms of a Berks County custody order changed, but you will have to follow the specific required procedure. It is important to understand that all changes to custody orders—even if both parties agree—must be made by the judge, or else the parties risk being held in contempt of the order.

To request changes to custody orders, you must file a request for modification with the Berks County Court of Common Pleas, explaining why you would like this change. Just as with a trial, the judge will decide whether to order the change.

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team understands the factors that Berks County judges consider when reviewing requests for modifications to custody orders. Let our seasoned attorneys guide you through this process.

How the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team Can Help You with Berks County Custody Issues

Our attorneys on the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team know Pennsylvania custody law and procedures. We are ready to hear your side and help you get the best results possible for both you and your child, whether you're filing your first complaint for custody, requesting modifications to an existing order, or trying to enforce your custodial rights. We can also help parties reach mutual agreements that are ready for a judge's signature.

We are an experienced, knowledgeable, and compassionate team of lawyers here to listen and here to help. To learn more about how we can guide you through child custody matters in Berks County, call us at 888.535.3686 or use our contact form to arrange a confidential consultation.

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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