Child Custody in Dauphin County

Child custody cases are often complex, difficult situations to resolve. Numerous factors can come into play, and the process can be stressful for all parties involved.

Custody disputes can arise at any point. Parents may disagree over everything or over one or two important areas. Parents may disagree over a requested modification to a custody order, or one parent may be violating a custody order.

Pennsylvania uses a child's best interests as the standard for resolving custody disputes. Second, when appropriate, a custody order encourages a child to have a relationship with both parents. Whether parents were married, how much money a parent has: These generally aren't relevant to a custody decision.

You want what's best for your child. If your children reside in Northampton County or in Pennsylvania, the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help you resolve your child custody case. We focus on protecting our client's interests and finding solutions that are in your child's best interests. Call us at 888-535-3686 or fill out our online form.

Who Can File for Custody in Dauphin County?

In Pennsylvania, where a parent files for custody, the decision is more about the child's residence than a parent's. Parents should file in Dauphin County when:

  • A child's residence is in Dauphin County
  • If a parent currently resides in Dauphin County and a child has resided in Dauphin County within the previous six months
  • If another county court doesn't have jurisdiction and:
    • The child and at least one parent have significant connections with Dauphin County beyond physical presence
    • Within Dauphin County is evidence regarding the child's protection, training, and personal relationships
  • If Dauphin County is found to be the best court for a child custody hearing
  • An emergency order is filed for the safety of the child in cases of suspected abuse or neglect

Parents can't avoid custody hearings by constantly moving the child or not registering a permanent address. Courts may make custody decisions even if a child isn't physically present.

In Loco Parentis, or Non-Parent Custody

The majority of individuals filing for custody are parents. Non-parents may file for custody in Dauphin County. Grandparents, great-grandparents, and anyone standing in loco parentis – that is, in the place of a parent – may file for custody.

Non-parents will have to file additional paperwork to show evidence of their connection to the child and why granting them custody is in the child's best interests. In Dauphin County, non-parents must show that:

  • They're willing to assume responsibility for the child
  • They have a sustained, substantial, and sincere interest in the child's welfare
  • Neither parent has any form of care and/or control of the child

In addition to the above, Dauphin County allows grandparents or great-grandparents to file for custody when:

  • A parent is deceased
  • They began a relationship with the child either with a parent's consent or under a court order and:
    • Parents have commenced custody proceedings
    • Parents disagree that a grandparent should have custody
  • A child has resided with a grandparent for at least one year and parents remove the child from a home

Some custody filings have time requirements and deadlines. The LLF Law Firm can help non-parents understand their options and time restraints in obtaining custody of children.

What Are the Types of Custody in Pennsylvania?

Parents should understand that custody differs from child support. Courts generally don't consider a parent's financial situation when making custody decisions, and parents can generally not use a superior financial position to gain custody of a child.

Custody refers to the physical and legal care of a child. Support, while related, refers to the financial arrangements. For example, a parent with full physical custody may be granted a higher child support payment than a parent with joint custody, but these decisions are based on each family's situation and what's in a child's best interests.

Courts will generally not limit the parent-child relationship even when a parent isn't paying an agreed-upon child support amount. A parent who doesn't pay child support may still have custody or visitation rights.

Pennsylvania recognizes the following types of custody:

  • Shared physical custody
  • Primary physical custody
  • Partial physical custody
  • Sole physical custody
  • Shared legal custody
  • Sole legal custody

Physical custody refers to physical caring for a child. This includes ensuring a child has sufficient food and medical care, can get to and from school and other activities, etc.

Legal custody focuses on decisions about a child's care and upbringing. Medical decisions, religious affiliation, and school choice are three of the major components of legal custody. They can be some of the more contentious grounds for disagreements.

Physical and legal custody can be joint or sole. Joint custody means that parents share time and/or decisions about the child. Sole custody means that one parent is solely responsible for caring for a child and/or making decisions. Parents may share legal custody while one parent has sole physical custody or vice versa.

When possible, Pennsylvania tries to award joint physical and legal custody on the grounds of a child having a relationship with both parents. Those relationships, however, are secondary to what's in a child's best interests.

Interim Awards

In some situations, a judge may make a temporary decision on legal and/or physical custody. This is known as an interim order.

Supervised Physical Custody

More commonly known as visitation, supervised physical custody occurs when a parent isn't able to care for a child. Visitation allows a parent to maintain a relationship with a child while protecting the child's safety. It may be either supervised or unsupervised.

When a court grants supervised physical custody, a court will assign an individual to be the third party who accompanies a parent during their time with their child. Both parents must agree with the assigned third party.

How Do I File for Custody in Dauphin County?

Parents may file for one of three motions involving child custody in Dauphin County:

  • A custody complaint when a custody order doesn't exist
  • A petition for modification when a custody order needs to be changed
  • A petition for contempt when one parent is violating a custody order

Parents or other adults may also file emergency petitions for custody.

Individuals must submit both the original completed forms and copies to the Dauphin County Prothonotary's Office. Located on the first floor of the Dauphin County Courthouse in Harrisburg, the office is open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 4:30 pm. They must also pay the fee filing amount.

Dauphin County doesn't require parents to have attorneys. The county does recommend that parents have legal representation in all child custody matters.

Emergency Petitions

Parents or other individuals should file an Emergency Petition for Special Relief when they believe a child's health and safety is at risk. Dauphin County emphasizes that emergency petitions should be used only when serious, provable risks to a child's health and safety exist.

An emergency isn't one parent refusing to obey a custody order. An emergency petition is also not appropriate in cases when one parent refuses to allow the other parent to see or have access to a child.

While true in all custody cases, for emergency petitions, Dauphin County emphasizes that individuals should think carefully before submitting an emergency petition. A false statement on the petition could open up an individual to criminal charges. If convicted, an individual may have to pay a fine or face imprisonment.

What Is the Process for Child Custody in Dauphin County?

Parents can agree to custody terms at any point during the process. Submitting forms or having a custody conference or hearing scheduled: None of these events bar parents from settling a dispute and agreeing to terms.

After a parent submits forms to the Prothonotary's Office, the office forwards the documents to the Court Administrator's Office. That office will then assign one of Dauphin County's three Custody Conference Officers to the case and schedule a custody conference.

The majority of these conferences are conducted via video conferencing. Children won't be included unless requested by the Custody Conference Officer.

The purpose of a custody conference is to help parents reach an agreement for both physical and legal custody. Custody conferences place decision-making power in the hands of parents.

If an agreement isn't reached during the conference, the next step is a trial before a judge. If a custody case proceeds to this step, it's the judge, not the parents, who makes the decision about custody.

During a hearing, each side will present their case before the judge. Parents should rely on evidence rather than emotion.

What Factors Are Considered When Awarding Custody in Dauphin County?

The top consideration when awarding child custody in Dauphin County is what's in a child's best interests. Second to that is maintaining and supporting a child's relationship with both parents.

Pennsylvania has a non-exclusive list of factors that can go into custody decisions. These factors may not be relevant in all situations, and other considerations may come into play.

Courts may consider what custody option provides a child with stability and continuity as well as a support system. Which parent is more likely to foster and allow a child to have a relationship with the other parent is also a consideration.

Parents' financial status will generally not be a factor in child custody determinations. A parents' criminal record may come into consideration, especially those that were violent or involved a child.

Domestic violence or abuse won't automatically bar a parent from seeing their child. In situations involving domestic abuse, a court will consider whether custody or visitation will put a child's health and safety at risk. The court will balance this against ensuring a child still has a relationship with their parent.

Tell the Truth

These factors underline an important part of any custody dispute: Parents need to be honest. While emotion can override logic, making it tempting to embellish stories in hopes of getting a more favorable custody order, such plans can potentially backfire on a parent.

A judge may find that a parent who lies or twists the truth is unlikely to encourage their child to have a relationship with their other parent. Or it may raise the question of whether a parent can provide a safe, stable environment.

Does Dauphin County Allow Changes to Custody Orders?

Yes. Parents can file a Petition for Modification whenever they need to change an existing custody order. Modifications can happen for any number of reasons, such as a parent moving or a change to a parent's schedule.

If a proposed modification involves a parent moving out of Dauphin County or Pennsylvania, parents should contact the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team to learn when a modification to an existing custody order to the best option and when parents may need to file a custody order in a new county.

What Happens if a Parent Violates a Custody Order in Dauphin County?

Parents should file a petition for contempt when the other parent violates the existing custody order. In Dauphin County, parents should file a contempt petition when a parent has willfully disobeyed or interfered with any of the current order's terms. A contempt petition should also be about serious issues and programs.

That a parent is 20 minutes late is minor and likely not important enough for a court to view it as grounds for civil contempt. That a parent refuses to let the other parent have access to the children despite having joint physical custody is likely a cause for contempt.

A parent found to be in contempt may be subjected to one of the following punishments:

  • Imprisonment for up to six months
  • A fine of up to $500
  • Probation for up to six months
  • A suspension or denial of a license

How to Navigate Child Custody Issues in Dauphin County

Child custody is often a contentious, emotional process. Parents may agree on all but one issue, and neither is willing to compromise. Other parents may start disagreeing but work through the issues.

Every family is different, and child custody orders should reflect each family's unique characteristics. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team helps parents throughout Pennsylvania find solutions that center on their children's best interests. Call us at 888-535-3686 or fill out our online form.

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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