Child Custody in Lebanon County

While often part of divorces, child custody issues can arise at any point. Parents don't have to be married to have a custody order. Parents who previously didn't have a formal order may find they need one. Or parents with an existing order may need to make changes.  

Child custody issues are often emotional and contentious. Parents want what they believe is best for their child, and when the other parent disagrees, it can be difficult to find common ground.  

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team appreciates the challenges of resolving child custody issues. We work with clients in Lebanon County and throughout Pennsylvania to resolve custody issues. We focus on custody agreements that focus on a child's best interests. Call us at 888-535-3686 or fill out our online form

Who Can File for Custody in Lebanon County? 

Parents must file for custody based on a child's home county. This generally means the Pennsylvania County in which a child has resided for at least the past six months. Lebanon County refers to this as a child's home county. 

A child's home county isn't always easy to determine. In these situations, Lebanon County recommends that parents consult with an attorney, such as the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team, to determine the best county in which to file. 

That a child hasn't lived with a parent doesn't bar a parent from seeking custody. Lebanon County doesn't require a parent to have previously had custody or resided with a parent to file for custody. 

Grandparents and In Loco Parentis 

Pennsylvania allows grandparents and other adults to file for custody in some situations. These situations generally occur when a parent is dead or unable to care for a child.  

When grandparents and other adults want to assume custody, they will need to show

  • A willingness to assume responsibility for the child 
  • A sustained, substantial, and sincere interest in a child's welfare 
    • This may be shown through a variety of factors, such as the nature, quality, extent, and length of the individual's involvement in a child's life 
  • Neither parent has any form of care and/or control of a child 

If a parent currently has custody but a parent or other adult has reasonable concern, along with evidence, that a child's well-being, health, or safety is at risk, that individual should immediately contact the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team. We can help you consider your options to help protect a child's continued well-being.  

How Do I File for Custody in Lebanon County? 

To open a case in Lebanon County, a parent or other adult must appear at the Domestic Relations Office between 8:30 am and 3 pm, Monday through Friday. The office operates on a first-come, first-served basis.  

To file a petition, individuals should first contact the Domestic Relations office to confirm the correct procedure for their specific petition. Individuals should also be prepared to pay filing fees. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team assists our clients with these questions.  

There are three general reasons why parents or other adults may need to open a case or file a petition: 

  • An initial custody order 
  • Modifying an existing custody order 
  • When one parent is in contempt of a custody order 

It's important to know that custody disputes can be resolved at any point. If parents reach an agreement, they don't have to wait for a mediation session or hearing. At the same time, parents shouldn't feel pressured to seek a resolution when there are important, unresolved issues. 

Steps in the Child Custody Process 

The general procedure for custody cases in Lebanon County after filing: 

  • A custody conciliation conference facilitated by a neutral third party 
  • Mediation, if appropriate 
  • Pretrial conference 
  • Hearing 

One important thing to know is that once a custody case arrives at the hearing stage, it is the judge and not the parents who make the decision. During conferences and mediation, parents have a say in the final decision. While parents can appeal these decisions, one of the advantages of resolving a custody case earlier is that parents have an active role in the order. 

What Are the Types of Child Custody? 

Pennsylvania has two types of custody and different types of division for each. Parents should keep in mind that custody issues are separate from child support. In general, money isn't a consideration when awarding custody, and a child support determination is separate from a custody decision. 

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 taking care of a child's physical needs, such as food and shelter. This focuses on a child's daily care, getting them to school, appointments, and activities, and their health and well-being. 

Legal custody refers to decisions about a child's school, religion, and major medical decisions. The default legal custody option in Pennsylvania is joint legal custody, regardless of the physical custody arrangement and both parents making decisions about a child's life. 

Both physical and legal custody can be sole or joint / shared. In joint or shared custody, parents are both actively involved in making decisions and/or caring for a child. 

In sole custody, one parent is entirely responsible for making decisions and caring for a child. Primary and partial are similar to joint physical custody, although one parent has the children for the majority of the time. 

Physical and legal custody don't have to be the same. In other words, parents may share joint legal custody while one parent has sole physical custody. 

A Child's Best Interests 

While Pennsylvania's overriding concern in custody agreements is what's in a child's best interests, second to that, a child has a relationship with both parents. A court could, for example, make a custody decision based on which parent is more likely to foster or allow a child to have a relationship with both parents. Courts may also find ways for parents to maintain a relationship with their children even if they don't have custody. 

Supervised Physical Custody 

Commonly known as visitation, supervised physical custody involves a court-appointed third party accompanying a child when they spend time with a parent or other adult. This is a good option for maintaining a parent-child relationship when a parent is unable to have custody for any reason. 

Interim Agreements 

Also known as temporary custody orders, courts may issue these short-term orders while a custody case is unresolved. Courts will determine what's most appropriate for a temporary custody order.  

Emergency Orders 

In situations when a child's health and safety are in danger, parents or other adults may wish to file an emergency order. Formally known as "Emergency Petition for Special Relief," these petitions essentially allow a case to "jump the line" for a quick resolution.  

Emergency petitions should only be used in limited situations when an adult has good cause to be concerned about a child's well-being. Mere suspicion or wanting to avoid waiting could backfire on the parent or other adult who files. 

What Are the Advantages of Having a Child Custody Order? 

Lebanon County doesn't require parents to have a custody order in place. When a parent should have a custody order is a sensitive decision, and Lebanon County encourages parents to consult with an attorney to decide the best course of action for their child and their situation. 

The advantage of custody orders is that they put custody arrangements into a legal document and give parents grounds to enforce these terms. These orders can potentially create stability for both parents and children in establishing a set schedule and determining who makes decisions. 

Can I Modify An Existing Custody Order in Lebanon County? 

Yes. Situations can change, and parents may need to make changes to custody agreements. One parent moving or switching jobs, children changing schools: Any of these life events can require a modification in a custody order. 

If a modification involves one parent moving out of Lebanon County, parents may wish to consult with an attorney. In some situations, a move may mean a custody order should be filed in that parent's new county of residence. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help parents determine the best course of action. 

What Factors Are Considered for Deciding Child Custody in Lebanon County? 

The overriding consideration for all custody considerations is what's in a child's best interests. Second is that a child can maintain a relationship with both parents. 

If a court has reason to believe that one parent has or may attempt to limit or block a child's relationship with the other parent, a court will likely take this into consideration. Courts generally tend to side with parents who will encourage or at least not restrict the other parent's access to and involvement in a child's life.  

Courts will generally not consider each parent's financial position when awarding custody. That one parent makes considerably more money doesn't mean they will automatically get custody. Financial considerations are the focus of child support decisions. 

Pennsylvania provides a list of factors that judges may use when deciding child custody. These factors aren't exclusive, and judges don't have to consider a factor because it's on the list or not include a factor because it isn't on the list.  

Some of the factors judges may consider: 

  • Each parent's established relationship and involvement in a child's life 
  • The need for stability and continuity in a child's life 
  • Whether either parent or a member of that parent's household has committed or has a history of abuse, and whether a child's health or safety is at risk 
  • Which parent is likely to provide a relationship and an environment that meets a child's emotional needs 
  • Which parent is more likely to attend to a child's daily needs 
  • Each parent's ability to care for a child or make appropriate child-care arrangements 

Abuse, Crime, and Custody 

That a parent or a member of a parent's household has a history of domestic abuse or a criminal record doesn't mean that a parent is automatically barred from having custody. A court will consider whether that criminal record or history of abuse puts a child at risk. 

Even when one parent has abused the other parent, that doesn't mean the abused parent automatically gets full custody. If abuse allegations or convictions are likely to play a role in your child custody case, you should contact the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team. 

Does Lebanon County Require a Parenting Plan as Part of a Custody Order? 

Pennsylvania law gives judges the discretion to require parents to complete a parenting plan in contested custody cases. Even if not required, parenting plans can be beneficial above and beyond a custody order. 

What Happens When a Parent Violates a Custody Order in Lebanon County? 

When a parent has evidence that the other parent has violated the custody order, they should file a Petition for Civil Contempt. Once a contempt petition is submitted, a hearing will be scheduled. Hearings are conducted before a judge on the Court of Common Pleas. 

Lebanon County emphasizes that changing a custody order isn't a remedy for violating a custody order. If parents or other custodial adults want to modify or change a custody order, they need to file separate paperwork in addition to the contempt petition.  

Tell the Truth 

Especially in contentious custody cases, exaggerating events can be tempting as a way to gain full custody. Parents need to be truthful throughout the process, as lying about or embellishing events can backfire on that parent. A judge may view a flexible relationship with the truth as behavior that isn't in a child's best interests.  

What is Special Relief in Lebanon County? 

In certain situations, Lebanon County allows parents to request that a judge rule on a disagreement before a conciliation conference or trial. Known as special relief, these situations don't involve co-parenting issues. 

Examples of special relief include: 

  • Granting a temporary custody order when none exists 
  • Requesting the other parent follow a temporary custody order 
  • When the other party doesn't agree, requesting a continuance of a custody conciliation conference or mediation 
  • Requesting an expert, such as a licensed psychologist, be involved in the case 
    • Note: The cost of any expert will be borne by the parties, not the court, Lebanon County, or Pennsylvania 

Special relief requests must be made via a formal pleading, similar to a custody complaint. 

Resolve Your Custody Case 

Child custody issues can be difficult to resolve. Both parents want what they believe is best for a child, and those views can conflict. Which parent gets a child for Christmas or decides what school a child attends can be challenging to resolve.  

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team works with our clients to ensure that their child's best interests are protected and that a child has stability throughout the process. We help our clients understand their options, assemble evidence, and guide them through the process. 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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