Child Custody in Lehigh County

Any divorce or separation that involves children can easily be one of the most stressful parts of a parent's life. Almost all parents want to take an active role in their child's life and be a part of big decisions, but the reality of child custody court orders may ruin this dream. Even when parents are on good terms with one another, the process of finalizing custody arrangements is still fraught with legal uncertainty and risk.

The Family Court division of the Court of Common Pleas oversees Lehigh County child custody cases. The Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm is experienced in handling Lehigh County child custody cases and can help parents deal with any custody concerns in the county. Call the LLF Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 or contact us online to start working with our team and protect your child's future.

Where Are Child Custody Cases Heard in Lehigh County?

Lehigh County's Family Court is located at 455 West Hamilton St. in Allentown, with custody matters in room 423. This is where all child custody filings and related legal documentation are processed, and judges conduct all hearings in this Family Court. If you are starting a child custody case or need relevant forms and information to begin the process, you will start here.

Lehigh County's Family Court also handles divorces, Protection from Abuse orders, and child support proceedings. The judges and staff overseeing and assisting with your case are highly experienced in family law matters. Family Court in Lehigh County provides limited information if you don't know where to start, but they advise you to seek attorney's help for complex matters like child custody or high-asset divorces.

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?

There are two types of child custody in Pennsylvania: physical and legal. Judges must address both parts of custody in their rulings, granting physical and legal custody to parents either solely or jointly.

  • Physical Custody: Physical custody concerns the daily responsibilities of caring for the child, including providing necessities like food, clothing, and shelter. It also covers logistical duties like taking a child to and from school and attending necessary healthcare appointments. Physical custody can be shared, and parents will both have the opportunity to spend time with their children and take on parenting responsibilities. If a judge does not award a parent any form of physical custody, they may be unable to visit with their child outside of scheduled times set by the court. However, a parent with physical custody does not automatically have total control, as judges can order legal custody to be shared similarly between parents.
  • Legal Custody: Legal custody concerns a parent's ability to make important life decisions about the child. Some of the common choices people associate with legal custody are choosing a child's religion as they grow, school enrollment, specific medical care, and discipline. Even if a parent has sole physical custody of a child, the other parent with shared legal custody can be involved in significant decision-making regarding their child's upbringing.

What Are the Requirements in Lehigh County for Seeking Child Custody?

In most cases, Lehigh County's Family Court will only hear custody cases involving children who have lived in Lehigh County for more than six months. However, they may allow you to start custody proceedings early in unique or extraordinary circumstances. For example, if a child is at risk of abuse, the Family Court may begin proceedings. In addition, a child under the age of six months is not held to the same six-month residency requirement.

Even if the Family Court has jurisdiction and the authority to hear a case, that doesn't mean everyone has the right to bring custody cases. Most child custody cases are between parents with equal rights to seek custody. Still, it isn't uncommon for grandparents, extended family members, or anyone else providing care to the child when parents are absent to fight for custody.

Family Court may not immediately recognize that extenuating circumstances allow child custody cases to be heard in Lehigh County before the six-month wait period. Even if judges eventually rule that child safety concerns allow for immediate proceedings, it can still be a long and arduous process to get to that point. The LLF Law Firm can represent you before Lehigh County's Family Court and get them to focus on your case to protect your child.

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

In Lehigh County, the procedure for resolving child custody cases begins with filing a "Complaint for Custody" electronically through an online portal. You also have the option to file a "Petition for Emergency Relief" if there is an ongoing risk to your child's health or safety. Family Court will expedite these petitions for review and give you a quicker resolution to your custody action.

Whenever your child is at risk, time spent learning how to file complaints and follow procedures is time that the Family Court cannot take action to protect them. Lehigh County's Family Court recommends hiring a lawyer to represent you during all child custody cases, as they cannot provide legal advice or assistance. Even without a lawyer, you are still required to follow all laws and procedures, and failing to do so may result in adverse action or the dismissal of your case. The LLF Law Firm is ready to help, and our Family Law Team is well acquainted with the child custody process in Lehigh County.

If your custody case requires a quick custody decision but does not involve potential harm to a child, you can file a "Petition for Expedited Relief." Without one of these petitions, the Family Court will follow a routine process of addressing complaints as they come in, only getting to your case after it hears more important matters. The Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm can help you expedite your case if circumstances require a quick resolution.

Custody cases that don't require emergency or expedited measures will typically end up in a custody conference, where both parties, along with their attorneys and a custody hearing officer, will meet to discuss potential settlement options. These conferences can decide matters like sole physical or legal custody, assuming both sides agree. Having an attorney with you to promote your interests gives you the best chance at leaving a custody conference with favorable terms in hand.

Custody Hearings

If an agreement is not reached, judges or officers will schedule custody hearings. Judges can also decline agreements and schedule hearings if they feel the agreements are not in the child's best interest. At a hearing, both sides can present evidence bolstering their claim. While witness testimony and other documents may paint the other party in a bad light, judges and officers must keep the child's best interests in mind. In many situations, this means providing both parents with some form of custody to keep them involved in a child's life.

Family Court judges in Lehigh County will conduct hearings when the disagreements involve significant decisions around legal custody and shared physical custody. For example, if two parents argue they should have sole legal custody, a judge will decide the case. However, for partial physical custody issues, like disagreements about how many weekends a month a parent gains physical custody, the custody hearing officer can decide the case and make a recommendation to a judge.

Just like with an agreement, a Family Court judge has the final say over whether a custody hearing officer's recommendation is in the child's best interests. Regardless of the path your custody case takes, it will eventually result in a Lehigh County judge issuing a child custody order.

Child custody orders that decide which parent has primary or sole custody have a huge impact on a child's life. The Family Law Team at the LLF Law Firm understands just how important these custody orders are, and we will do everything in our power to help you secure a favorable child custody order that keeps you in your child's life and gives them the best future.

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

The process for appealing a child custody order or challenging a decision will differ depending on who oversaw your case, but both paths require quick action before you lose your right to appeal.

If a custody hearing officer decides your case, you have 20 days after they submit a proposed order to a judge to file exceptions to the order. Later, you can go before a judge and argue for changes to the custody order based on these exceptions.

If a judge heard your case, you can file a motion directly with the judge for them to reconsider your case, possibly bringing new evidence to sway their decision. Otherwise, your only option is an appeal to the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, located at 530 Walnut St. in Philadelphia. You must file this appeal within 30 days of a judge issuing your child custody order. Importantly, this 30-day countdown is not paused while you await a response on your reconsideration motion.

After receiving a child custody order that isn't to your liking and dealing with the emotional aftermath, it can be hard to take the necessary steps to appeal. The LLF Law Firm knows your struggles, and we are here to help. Our Family Law Team can assist you in arguing for a modification to existing orders or help protect you when the other party seeks changes that limit your parental rights.

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

Violating a child custody order issued by a Family Court judge is a serious offense that can result in criminal charges, fines, or permanent modifications to a custody order. This process isn't automatic, and you must file a Petition for Contempt with Lehigh County's Family Court before they can take action. However, if a court in another jurisdiction issued your child custody order, you must file with that same Family Court, not in Lehigh County.

One violation of a custody order does not typically result in immediate court action, but repeated violations give a Family Court judge good reason to modify an order further. Whether you are filing a petition to force compliance with a custody order or defending yourself against accusations, the LLF Law Firm can represent you before Lehigh County's Family Court and resolve the issues without negatively affecting your existing agreement.

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

If there is one thing you should know about custody orders, it is that they are not for the benefit of parents. While child custody orders deal with which parent has different forms of custody and how they share responsibilities, those decisions aim to provide the best life and upbringing possible for the child. Parents are not allowed to break custody agreements, even if both sides favor changes.

If parents want to change a custody order, they must file a motion in Lehigh County's Family Court. This will give a judge the opportunity to review the reasoning behind the change and decide if it is in the best interests of the child. Without going through this process, parents who do not follow a child custody order risk being held in contempt of court.

In situations where both parents do not agree, the party who wants to make a change must still file a motion in Family Court. Judges will allow both sides to argue for or against changes to the existing order, and they will grant the change if new evidence demonstrates a better custody arrangement.

If you are seeking a change to an existing custody order or need to defend your current arrangement before a judge, the LLF Law Firm can help. Our Family Law Team understands what judges look for when deciding custody modifications. Lehigh County residents dealing with hearings over their existing custody arrangement should contact the LLF Law Firm before their custody rights are forever changed.

The LLF Law Firm Can Help With Your Child Custody Issues in Lehigh County

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team has assisted Lehigh County parents with custody issues for many years, and we can leverage these years of experience to help in your case as well. Knowledge of the child custody court processallows us to efficiently build a case that supports your position and results in the best outcome for your child.

The LLF Law Firm can represent you during any part of the process, whether you are filing for the first time, seeking adjustments to an order, or defending yourself against accusations of violating the court's decisions. We understand how difficult and taxing child custody cases can be, and we aim to help you and the other party come to a fair agreement that judges will accept.

If you are dealing with child custody issues in Lehigh County, don't leave anything to chance. Contact the LLF Law Firm today at (888) 535-3686 or through our online form to schedule a consultation and learn how we can help.

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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