Child Custody in Bucks County

One of the most potentially stressful parts of any separation or divorce is deciding how child custody will be handled as the parties move forward. It can be extremely difficult to separate the issues that are behind the decision to separate or divorce from those that relate to the welfare of the couple's children. If you're facing a child custody situation in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help. Our experienced attorneys understand Pennsylvania's child custody laws and the procedures that Bucks County courts use to resolve child custody issues. Call us today at 888.535.3686 or use our contact form to learn more about how we can help.  

Where Are Child Custody Cases Heard in Bucks County?  

Child custody cases in Bucks County are heard at the Bucks County Justice Center at 100 North Main Street in Doylestown by the Family Court division of the Court of Common Pleas. Initial filings are made through the Prothonotary's office; the Prothonotary acts as the clerk for handling documents filed in connection with civil cases (including Family Court cases).  

Child custody cases can be filed as part of a divorce proceeding or separately as a child custody case. These cases are assigned to designated Family Court judges who will ultimately issue custody orders in connection with each child custody application. Depending on the situation, a “Family Master” may be appointed by the court to attempt to resolve child custody-related issues with the parties. Even in situations where the parties agree to custody terms (whether originally or after meeting with a Family Master), the terms will need to be reviewed and approved by a judge. In cases where the parties can't resolve issues, the Family Court judge may hold a hearing on the matter before issuing the child custody order.  

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?  

There are two distinct types of child custody: Physical and Legal. They often do not go together; in other words, the parent with primary physical custody may not always have legal custody of the child. Here is what the two terms mean:  

  • Physical Custody. This refers to who will be responsible for the daily care of the child, making sure they're properly fed, clothed, and housed, that they get to and from school and their activities, and that they regularly see a doctor and dentist. Physical custody can be shared, with one parent having physical custody part of the time and the other parent having it the rest of the time. In some cases, where one parent is incapable of caring for the child, physical custody may be awarded entirely to the other parent. In those kinds of situations, the parent without custody may have designated times when they can visit with the child, sometimes on a supervised basis.  
  • Legal Custody. This relates to who has the authority to make important decisions about the child. These can include where the child will attend school, what religion they'll practice, who their physician will be and what types of medical treatment they'll receive, and other important issues relating to their care and upbringing. In many cases, legal custody will be shared by both parents, even if one parent has primary physical custody. When parents with shared legal custody fail to agree on childcare matters, the issue can be submitted to the judge to be resolved.  

What Are the Requirements to Be Able to Seek Custody of a Child in Bucks County?  

There are residency requirements to be able to bring a child custody case in Bucks County, but generally, if the child has been living in the county for six months before the child custody complaint is filed, the Family Court will hear it (an exception, of course, is where the case involves custody of a newborn who is less than six months old).  

Not everybody can bring a custody case. Parents obviously may, but grandparents or a person who has been caring for the child and more or less acting as a parent may also seek custody. In some cases, where both parents are unable to care for the child, a person who is willing to care for the child and has a long-term interest in the child's welfare may also be granted custody.  

In all child custody cases, Pennsylvania law requires the judge to enter their child custody order based on what is in the best interests of the child. This can sometimes mean that the judge may disagree with a child custody proposal that both parents have already agreed to and change the custody terms to ones the judge believes are more in the child's best interests. Working with an experienced attorney from the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help you make sure that even when you agree to custody terms, those terms are ones that a court is also likely to accept.  

What is the Procedure Used to Resolve Child Custody Cases in Bucks County?  

The initial filing of a child custody complaint (whether it's a separate complaint or part of a divorce proceeding) is made with the Prothonotary's Office in Bucks County. In cases where the custody request is urgent, it may be filed as an Emergency Pleading, which can be directed to either a Family Master or a Family Court Judge, depending on the situation. In non-emergency cases, the court will notify you roughly two weeks after you file your custody complaint of when your conference date is.  

In most cases, the custody matter will be referred to a Family Master, and your conference may be with that person. The Family Master will attempt to help both parties come to an agreement on child custody terms. If an agreement is reached, that will be submitted to the judge to be turned into a custody order.  

If you are unable to reach an agreement on custody terms, the Family Master may also hold a hearing. At the hearing, you will be able to argue in favor of your proposed terms and against the terms proposed by the other parent. The Family Master will issue a recommended custody order that the judge will typically sign and issue as a formal court order.  

If you are at the point where your child custody case is set for a hearing, the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can represent you at that hearing. We will strenuously argue on your behalf to protect your rights and will vigorously advocate for child custody terms that are in your child's best interests.   

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

After a Family Master issues a proposed child custody order, you'll typically have a period of time where you can file “exceptions” to the order with the judge responsible for your case. Those exceptions will explain to the judge what the problems are with the Family Master's proposed order, how they should be changed, and how those changes will be in the best interests of the child. The judge may hold a hearing on your exceptions, at which you'll have another chance to argue in favor of your proposed version of the child custody order and explain how your version is in your child's best interests.  

When a judge issues a child custody order that you disagree with, you may be able to ask the judge to reconsider or file an appeal of the custody order with the Superior Court, which is at 530 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. This typically needs to be done relatively quickly, within 30 days of when the judge issues the child custody order.  

If you believe you have grounds on which to argue against a proposed child custody order or to appeal one issued by the Family Court judge, the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help you decide what your best approach is. If you agree with an order, but the other parent is contesting it, we can also represent you and help you protect your rights as a parent as well as your child's best interests.  

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

Child custody orders are official orders of the court. Violating a court order is treated as contempt, which can result in a fine, a jail term, or both. If the other parent is refusing to honor the terms of a child custody order issued by a Bucks County Family Court judge, you will need to file a petition for contempt with the court and against the other parent. That petition will result in a hearing that may end up with the judge changing custody terms, often to reduce the opportunities for the other parent to violate them; the judge may also fine the other parent and, in severe cases, sentence them to a jail term.  

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help you in those difficult situations where the other parent is failing to follow the terms of the Family Court's child custody order. We can also help defend you in situations where the other parent is claiming that you violated the order and is seeking an order of contempt against you. Contact us to learn more.  

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

As children grow or the parents' situations change, it often makes sense for the terms of the child custody order to change as well. This is where it's important to pay attention to the details of that order. In some cases, both parents will agree on the changes and will act as though the custody terms have changed but will fail to ask the judge to modify the child custody order to reflect those changes. This can be dangerous for two reasons.  

First, if at some point one parent decides that they want to return to the terms of the original custody order, there is not much that the other parent can do about that because that's the order that is still in force. Having a revised order in place means that any desired changes by either parent will need to be approved by the judge.  

Second, even though both parents may agree to change the custody terms because those terms were set by the judge with the best interests of the child in mind, it's important to have the judge review and agree to the proposed changes. Otherwise, either or both parents could end up being held in contempt of the judge's original custody order.  

Child custody orders are meant to primarily benefit the child. If you, or you and the other parent, wish to change the terms of an existing child custody order, you need to ask the court to do so. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help make sure your request is properly filed with the court and is supported so that the judge is more likely to agree that the change is in your child's best interests. If you disagree with the other parent's request to change the child custody order, we can represent you and help you argue against that change.   

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

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team has represented parents in child custody and divorce proceedings across Pennsylvania, including in Bucks County. We understand Pennsylvania's divorce, child custody, child support, and related laws, and we know how the Family Courts operate. We can help you protect your rights and the best interests of your child or children through what can be a long, stressful, and difficult process. We understand how hard this is for everybody involved, and we are here to both listen and help.  

Call the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team today to learn more about how we can help you with your child custody questions. Our number is 888.535.3686, or you can use our contact link to set up 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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