Child Custody in Columbia County

Child custody cases are never easy. In almost every situation, both parties care deeply for the child or children that are the focus of any child custody determination. When two people are separating or divorcing, child custody questions add more stress to what is already one of the most stressful situations anybody can face. Even when they agree on the major points of child custody, their agreement must still be reviewed and approved by a judge, who can change the custody terms and in every case must issue an order for the terms to be enforceable.

In Columbia County, child custody cases are heard by the Court of Common Pleas located in Bloomsburg. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team is ready to help you protect your rights and those of your child or children in Columbia County child custody cases, even in cases where there isn't a dispute about what the custody terms will be. Call us today at 888.535.3686 or schedule a confidential consultation to learn more about how our experienced attorneys can help.

Where Are Child Custody Cases Heard in Columbia County?

The Columbia County Courthouse is located at 35 W. Main Street in Bloomsburg. Among the courts located there is the Court of Common Pleas, which is responsible for child custody matters. Documents related to child custody matters are filed with the Prothonotary's office located in the same courthouse on the first floor.

Initially, child custody matters are handled by a Conference Officer – a lawyer appointed by the Court who meets with both parents and then recommends a custody arrangement to the Court. The three judges that sit in Columbia County's Court of Common Pleas also hear a number of other types of cases.

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?

It's important to understand the two different types of child custody: Physical Custody and Legal Custody. Both types of custody need to be covered in any custody order issued in Columbia County. Here's what they mean:

  • Physical Custody refers to being responsible for the daily care of the child; in a custody order it describes which parent will be responsible for providing the child with food, clothing, and shelter; making sure the child gets to and from school and after-school activities; setting up and transporting the child to doctor and dentist appointments; and things of a similar everyday nature. Physical custody can be with one parent primarily, or it can be shared. In a shared situation, each parent will spend significant amounts of time with the child and be responsible during that time for the child's daily needs. In other cases, one parent may have sole physical custody of the child, while the other parent will be allowed to have limited visits. In some cases, depending on the situation, those visits may need to be supervised by a court-appointed monitor.
  • Legal Custody focuses on who makes significant decisions about the child's life such as what religion they will be instructed in and practice; where the child will go to school; what types of medical and dental care the child will receive; and other issues that significantly impact the child's upbringing. Legal Custody is often shared, but in some cases can be awarded to only one parent, who may or may not be the same parent who has physical custody of the child.

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

The child needs to be living in Columbia County for the court to have jurisdiction over their custody – generally speaking, for at least six months. There are exceptions to this, for example where the child is under the age of six months, or where the custody request is being made because the child has been abused or abandoned, or where the child's sibling or parent has suffered abuse.

Not everyone can bring a child custody case. Typically, courts will permit the following to seek custody: parents, grandparents, a long-term caregiver who has assumed parental responsibilities, or – in cases where neither parent is able to care for the child – a responsible person who affirms that they are willing to care for the child and can show that they have a long-term interest in the child's welfare.

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

The initial request for custody can take one of several forms, depending on whether the situation is urgent or not. In cases of extreme urgency, where the child's health, safety, or welfare is in immediate danger, the person seeking custody can file a “Petition for Emergency Relief,” which is likely to be heard very quickly – often within a day of when it's filed. In other cases where there are urgent issues that need to be decided but where the child's welfare isn't immediately in danger, the custody request can be made via a “Petition for Expedited Relief,” which will be considered more quickly than a regular Complaint for Custody.

In most cases, a “Complaint for Custody” is the typical pleading that would be filed in a child custody case in Columbia County. Once it's filed, however, you usually won't see a judge. Instead, you and your spouse and your child or children will meet with a court-appointed Conference Officer. As noted above, the Conference Officer is a lawyer, appointed by the court, whose job it is to meet with the family and work out a custody arrangement.

At the close of the meeting, the Conference Officer will have a proposed custody arrangement that will be presented to the judge. Note that this proposed arrangement may not be one that both parents agree on. In fact, in some cases, neither parent may completely agree with all of the parts of the Conference Officer's proposed order. If the objections are strong enough, they can be filed with the court after the Conference Officer submits the proposed custody order to the judge for approval. In that case, the court will hold a hearing to resolve the objections.

Eventually, the court will issue a child custody order. It's important to read, understand, and follow this order. Violating its terms means you've violated a court order, and you can be sanctioned by the court if you do so.

Another thing that's important to keep in mind is this: both the Conference Officer and the Judge will be focusing on what is in the best interests of the child or children whose custody arrangements are set by the custody order. This is often the reason for custody orders that have different terms than those proposed by one or both parents – even in situations where the parents walk into the meeting with the Conference Officer agreeing on what they believe the custody arrangements should be.

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

Once the Conference Officer submits a proposed custody order to the judge, you'll have 20 days to file any so-called “Exceptions” (or disagreements with) to the terms of that proposed order. Your exceptions will need to explain not only which parts of the proposed custody order you disagree with but also what you think the order should say instead and why. The judge will then hold a court hearing to rule on your exceptions. At that hearing, each side will be able to argue for their proposed version of the custody order and against the Conference Officer's proposed version, as well as any alternative version proposed by the other parent.

If you're unhappy with the judge's ruling, you can ask the judge to reconsider it or file an appeal with the Superior Court, located in Harrisburg. The appeal be filed within 30 days of when the judge issues the custody order, even in cases where you've asked the judge to reconsider it. In the meantime, the custody order will be active and in force unless the judge who issued it or the Superior Court says otherwise. This means you need to follow the terms of the custody order – even those parts you disagree with.

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team is ready to provide you with effective legal advice if the judge issues a custody order that you disagree with or if the other parent involved in the child custody proceeding decides to challenge an order that you do agree with. Our experienced attorneys are familiar with the laws and procedures that courts use to resolve disputed custody orders. We'll help you make strong and effective arguments based on the facts that apply to your particular situation.

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

A child custody order is a formal court order, issued and signed by a Common Pleas court judge in Columbia County. Violating any court order can have serious consequences, but violating a child custody order can lead to real problems, because the order is focused on protecting the best interests of the child or children that are involved. Violations of custody orders can lead to sanctions such as monetary fines and even jail time. For any of that to happen, however, the party who hasn't violated the custody order needs to bring the violation to the court's attention by filing a Petition for Contempt.

The other consequence of violating a custody order is that the order may then be revised to make it more difficult for the violation to happen again. If a parent refuses to return a child at a time and place set by the custody order, for example, the court may revise the order to require supervised visits with that parent.

At the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team, we understand how upsetting it is when your ex ignores the requirements of the custody order that the judge has ordered in your case. We also know how difficult it can be to be accused of violating it yourself. In either case, we're here to help you protect yourself and your child or children in connection with any contempt petition filed with the Columbia County Court of Common Pleas.

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

Firstly, don't just do it yourself. Even if you agree with your ex on making changes to the terms of a custody order, you need to get those changes approved by the judge in your custody case. Remember, a custody order is a court order. Any deviations from the terms of that order need to be reflected in a revised order signed by the judge. Otherwise both you and your ex could wind up being held in contempt.

In addition, the focus of any custody order is on what's in the best interests of the child or children involved. Not every change proposed by one or both parents will necessarily take those best interests into account, which is why the judge needs to review them. The way to make that happen is by filing a motion to modify the order. That motion will need to explain what the proposed changes are, why they are being requested, and how the changed order will satisfy the “best interests” requirement.

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team is very familiar with the requirements for filing successful motions to modify child custody orders. We know the standards that courts use to decide these kinds of motions, and will work to make sure any motion we file on your behalf addresses and meets those standards so it is more likely to be granted by the judge in your case.

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

Making sure your child or children are properly cared for is obviously very important to you. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team understands this, and our experienced attorneys have spent years helping parents across Pennsylvania, including in Columbia County, secure effective custody orders that protect their children and ensure the level of care that they deserve. We know the child custody rules and procedures in Pennsylvania, and we'll fight for your rights as a parent and for what's in the best interests of your offspring.

If your ex violates the terms of a custody order, we know how to ask the court to enforce that order and keep it from happening again. If you should be accused of violating it, we will defend you against contempt charges.

But at the LLF Law Firm Family Defense Team, we do more than fight for our clients' rights in court. Many times disputes about custody terms can be resolved through negotiation, and that's something our attorneys do regularly. It's almost always better for two parties who have a dispute to come to an agreement on how to resolve it than to place the decision in the hands of a judge. Some of our best work happens in these meetings, when we can help both sides reach a mutual understanding on custody terms. And because we also know the standards the judge will apply when reviewing a proposed custody order, we'll always be keeping in mind the fact that whatever is agreed to must eventually be approved by the judge.

Call the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team today at 888.535.3686 or schedule a confidential consultation to learn more about how we can help you with your child custody issues. Children deserve a bright future; let us help you make that happen.

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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