Child Custody in Lancaster County

Having to decide the parameters of child custody agreements can be fraught with complex and emotional challenges, from discussing terms with ex-spouses, ensuring your child's best interests are upheld, and authenticating everything before a judge. Navigating the process in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, requires understanding state laws, how the judge may react to an agreement, and a sharp awareness of family dynamics. Even when parties agree on child custody terms, a judge may deny the order for a multitude of reasons. 

Even though parents or guardians may have their children's best interests at heart and work hard to demonstrate that to the court, ensuring the best outcome requires hiring professional legal assistance. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team is well-known in Lancaster County and throughout Pennsylvania for its years of experience working with families in child custody cases. Don't wait until you've started the process to seek guidance, and get in touch with us now. To retain a devoted team to guide you and your family through 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 reach out to you. 

Where Are Child Custody Cases Heard in Lancaster County? 

All child custody cases in Lancaster County are filed through and managed by the Prothonotary's Office at the Lancaster County Government Center located at 150 North Queen Street in Lancaster. For parents at the beginning of the custody process, this is where all actions for custody agreements, judicial actions, complaint filing, contempt proceedings, and petitions to modify orders will occur. 

Typically, child custody matters are decided by a hearing officer or judge who primarily manages domestic legal issues like divorce, subsequent alimony and child support, protection orders, and other related matters. However, a judge from the Juvenile Court or Orphans' Court may be applicable to custody cases under certain circumstances. 

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody? 

Before parents decide to take anything to court, they will probably discuss or at least have in mind some of the particulars of custody moving forward. In a judge's final order, custody will determine which individual bears various legal responsibilities of a child involved in the matter. 

Only certain individuals may file a child custody case. Depending on the circumstances, only the following are eligible: 

  • An individual that adopted the child. 
  • A child's grandparent if they have been under their care for at least 12 months or if the child is threatened with abuse or neglect. 
  • Guardians that have assumed parental responsibilities or a person with a long-standing interest in the child's welfare when neither parent is available to be a caregiver. 

Many may be aware of the differences in sole versus joint custody. Final orders signed by a judge may include unique combinations of custodial duties but will revolve around two types of child custody

  • Physical custody: This type of custody can be granted to one party or can be a shared responsibility between the parents. The characteristics of physical custody include ensuring daily child care, like food, clothing, and shelter, but also getting the child to and from school, extracurricular activities, health appointments, and others. 
  • Legal custody: Although a judge may determine that legal custody is shared between two parties, it can also be granted to one individual—and that person may not be the same person given physical custody. Legal custody confirms who will make significant, more long-term decisions about the child's upbringing and overall care, like school choice, religious traditions, medical care, and others. 

There is no restriction on settling the stipulations of custody agreements outside of the courtroom. However, Lancaster County—like all other counties in Pennsylvania—requires a judge to affirm a legally binding order. Once a judge or hearing officer becomes involved, they may reserve higher scrutiny on decisions. 

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

In most cases, the first step in a child custody case in Lancaster County involves filing a Complaint for Custody with the Common Pleas level of Family Court. However, in situations where the situation demands urgency, there are alternative pathways. 

  • Emergency Petition: This process is used when the child's health, safety, or welfare is in immediate danger. Lancaster County's judiciary will typically review the petition and relay a determination within one business day of its filing. 
  • Petition for Expedited Relief: In cases that need to be decided quickly but do not place the child involved in immediate danger, this process will move quicker than a routine proceeding.   

Under normal circumstances, when Lancaster County receives a custody petition, it assigns a hearing officer—sometimes called a custody conference officer. Both parties will receive a notice with the hearing's time, date, and room number. The hearing officer will begin by meeting with both parties to help them come to an agreement on child custody terms. 

Sometimes, both parents voluntarily create a plan of action and agree on terms. If so, the hearing officer will review them before the stipulations are sent to a judge to be signed in a final order. If no agreement can be reached, or if the hearing officer determines the agreement does not promote the best interests of the child, the matter will be left up to a judge. They may appoint a mediator to further encourage both parties to reach a mutual agreement. If that measure fails, a hearing will be held before a hearing officer or judge. 

At that point, each side will have a chance to present evidence, such as witness testimony, documents, and other relevant materials, in favor of their position. Yet, there are multiple aspects that a judge will consider in child custody cases. Some characteristics of various situations pertinent to the proceedings include but are not limited to the following: 

  • Past or present disagreements or conflicts between the parties or degrees of cooperation. 
  • The likelihood of either party encouraging contact between the child and the other party. 
  • The parental duties of each party, including their work schedules and ability to provide for the child. 
  • Past or present abusive behavior to the other party or the child, including substance abuse or mental health issues. 
  • The ability or skills of either party to provide special needs care or unique emotional caretaking. 
  • The availability of either party's extended family to provide child care. 

While the judge may focus on the situation between the parents and their individual circumstances, proceedings are to promote the child's best interests under Pennsylvania law. Therefore, the judge will also consider: 

  • Relationships between the child and any siblings. 
  • The child's age, intelligence, maturity, and preference for either parent. 
  • Daily education requirements, previous home life, and community connections. 

As mentioned before, the primary focus of the hearing officer or judge is the child's best interests. Therefore, that can mean that the recommended course of action may not satisfy either parent. 

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

If the child custody case was heard by a hearing officer, each party has 20 days to file exceptions to the proposed custody order. In the filing, parties must explain why they take exception to proposed orders. Afterward, the hearing officer will hold a proceeding where the parties will argue for or against the child custody order. 

However, if a judge heard the child custody matter, there are two options: 

  • File a petition with the Lancaster County Courthouse for the judge to reconsider the matter. 
  • Appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania's Prothonotary's Office, located at 530 Walnut Street in Philadelphia, within 30 days of when the custody order is issued, regardless of whether a petition for reconsideration is filed. 

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

Since a child custody order is an official court directive, breaching its terms can be a serious offense. The individual found in violation of 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 in Lancaster County. 

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, persistent refusals to adhere to the court-ordered scheduling for the child's schooling and doctor's appointments or failing to return the child on time may prompt such a request. The court is also receptive to petitions if one party's actions threaten the well-being and safety of the child. 

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

Regardless of whether either party seeks to amend a court order—even when a child's health, safety, or welfare is at risk—a judge must sign off on any changes to those terms. Even when the child's best interest is in the minds of both parents, they each risk being found in contempt of the court's custody order. The appropriate way to make changes to a child custody order is by filing with Lancaster County to modify the order, no matter how small the alteration is or how inconsequential you may think it is. 

A court filing will allow the judge to review the reasons for the request to alter the order and to decide whether the proposed modification is in the child's best interests. 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 to make some other change to the child custody order through further negotiation. 

Unfortunately, many parents in the middle of a child custody decision may not recognize the risk of going through the process alone. Pennsylvania's legal landscape is complex, and order involving the wishes of children can sometimes become emotionally charged. 

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

Approaching child custody cases in Lancaster County alone doesn't do you or your child any good. Even if parents believe they are acting in their child's best interests, they still need professional assistance. Custody orders often contain complex language, and even minor breaches can derail an individual's personal and professional reputation. 

Fortunately, the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team stands prepared with years of experience helping parents with child custody issues in Lancaster County. Our team will work tirelessly to collect the information you need to support your position in child custody order, defend your rights as a parent, and protect your child's best interests above all. 

Our team of dedicated attorneys is a value proposition like no other. They are a significant benefit to you and your child for the following reasons: 

  • Creating child custody agreements: We can help you design a child custody agreement acceptable to both parties but also to the hearing officer or judge assigned. If you and the other party come to an agreement, it's no good if the judge fails to accept it. 
  • Disputing or modifying child custody orders: We will advise you in seeking modifications to an existing order or upholding your position when the other party requests a change. Our team understands what courts look for in disputed custody orders and can readily assist you. 
  • Defending against child custody order violations: Our attorneys are familiar with the requirements for contempt petitions in family court matters. We can help you file for or defend against a petition filed with the court for any reason. 

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team is ready and waiting to assist in your child custody matters and help you gain the best possible outcome. We will guide you through every step of Lancaster County's process to protect your rights as a parent and your child's best interests. 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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