Child Custody in Luzerne County

Luzerne County is a Pennsylvania county formed in 1786, named after Chevalier de la Luzerne, a French diplomat and soldier. The county's economy consists of tourism, business, health care, manufacturing, and anthracite coal mining. The county consists of 890 square miles of land and 16 square miles of water. The county seat is Wilkes-Barre. All custody matters are scheduled in Family Court in Luzerne County.

Child custody issues often arise from the difficulties a couple encounters during legal separation and divorce. Even friendly divorces with informal custody agreements require a formal custody order from a judge to make an enforceable child custody agreement. If you or a family member are facing custody issues in Luzerne County, then the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help you resolve those issues while protecting all your rights. Call the offices today at 888.535.3686 or contact us.

Where Child Custody Cases Are Heard in Luzerne County

All custody matters are scheduled before Judges and Custody Hearing Officers of the Family Court, located in either the Luzerne County Courthouse or the Bernard C. Brominski Building. The Bernard Brominski Building is located at 113 North River Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711.

All custody matters handled by the judges and hearing officers in Family Court are part of the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. Other domestic services are handled by the Domestic Relations office and include services such as the location of absent parents, the enforcement and disbursement of child and spousal support payments, and the establishment of paternity.

Types of Child Custody

A custodian for a child is the guardian responsible for caretaking a child over time. The law in Luzerne County distinguishes between several types of custody. Legal custody includes the right to make major decisions in the best interests of the child, including decisions about religious, educational, and medical affairs. Legal custody can either be sole or shared. Primary physical custody concerns the actual physical control and care of the child for a substantial amount of time. This type of custody would include things like providing food and shelter, transportation, and medical care for the child. Physical custody is broken down further in Luzerne County into partial physical custody and supervised physical custody. Partial physical custody is for less than a majority of the time, and supervised physical custody is when an agency or designated adult, agreed upon by the parties or designated by the court, monitors the interactions between the child and the supervised adult. A final type of custody outlined in Luzerne County is called In Loco Parentis, where a person other than a parent has the physical custody of the child and has been performing parental duties or has been awarded physical custody by the court.

Procedures Used to Resolve Child Custody Cases in Luzerne County

A legal proceeding for child custody begins with a complaint. To file a complaint for custody in the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas, a person must be a legally interested party to the suit, which is legally defined as standing. An interested party to a child custody suit is often one of the separated parents, but it could also include a grandparent who has been a caregiver to the child for at least a year or who testifies that the child is at risk for neglect or abuse. It could also include an adoptive parent or other guardian who has given substantial care to the child over time.

A majority of child custody cases involve children that are older than six months of age, but in cases of emergency involving issues like abandonment or abuse to either a child or a parent, the family court may take emergency actionregardless of the child's age. Any person bringing an Emergency Petition for Special Relief in a child custody case must fit the qualifications of an interested party. This powerful request for relief is responded to by the family court within one day and greatly shortens the time for a decision regarding emergency or interim custody. A Petition for Expedited Relief can also be filed in urgent but not emergency situations, and the court will conduct a hearing on the petition within a few days. The normal process for child custody complaints in a non-emergency situation can take months to proceed through the Luzerne family court process.

Emergency and expedited petitions, as well as regular child custody complaints, are filed in the Office of the Prothonotary at the Luzerne County Courthouse, Second Floor, 200 North River Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA 18711. If no emergency or expedited hearings are needed, then after the complaint is filed and filing fees are paid, the case will be referred to a Custody Hearing Officer, who is a lawyer employed by the court.

The custody hearing officer will preside over a conference/hearing, which is not a trial before a judge but an opportunity for the parties to resolve their differences over child custody through a negotiated settlement. All custody proceedings, including conference/hearings, sometimes known as a Conciliation Conference, proceed under Rules1915-4-1 and 1915-4-2. The Custody Hearing Officer may order appropriate evaluations of either party to determine the fitness of the person as a custodian of the child. Each party must be prepared to discuss the specific terms of any custodial arrangement. The conference/hearing is held on the third floor of the Brominski Building, located across the street from the main courthouse at 113 West North Street, Wilkes-Barre, PA.

Within 10 days of the hearing, The Custody Hearing Officer can file a report with the court, making recommendations to the judge for interim orders regarding partial custody or supervised physical custody. If no agreement among the parties is possible, then the judge has the option to hold a brief evidentiary hearing in court to address the issues of physical and legal custody in an Interim Order.

All parties to the custody suit must file a request for a custody trial within 20 days of the date of the Interim Order issued after a brief evidentiary hearing. Any party may also file exceptions to the Interim Order or objections to evidence, rulings, or statements of findings of fact or conclusions of law. All exceptions must be specifically noted, or the objections are waived; if exceptions are filed, the court hears arguments on the exceptions and then enters a final order within 15 days of the argument. If no request for a custody trial is made, then the Interim Order becomes a final order of the court, and any other issues not pertaining to legal or physical custody can be addressed by the Custody Hearing Officer if needed.

If a request for a trial is made by a party seeking custody, the party notifies the hearing officer, who will then schedule both a pre-trial conference and a trial before the judge. A hearing can be held before a family court judge, and the rules for notice, discovery, and evidence will be followed as outlined in the Luzerne Courts Civil Rules. The focus of every child custody hearing is to determine what is in the best interests of the child. In all cases, the end result will be a formal child custody order that is issued by the family court judge.

Mutual Agreement and Petition to Modify

A Petition to Modify a custody order may be filed with the Prothonotary's Office in Luzerne County after a custody order has been issued by the family court. Custodial parties may informally create agreements that are different than the original child custody order. Despite any informal agreements, however, any changes or modifications must be reviewed by the court for a custodial party to avoid contempt of court for violation of a court's final custody order. The court is now the ultimate arbiter of what is in the best interests of the child under its court order; the custodial parties cannot just do what they consider agreeable or convenient. Either a filing of mutual agreement showing a schedule of changes or a petition to modify by one party must be filed in the Luzerne County system for the judge to reconsider and review any requests for modification in the custody order. The document must set out why any modifications or changes are in the best interests of the child. In an instance where both parties agree to the change, another hearing may not be necessary. If the request is brought by one party based on disagreement, then another hearing with witnesses and evidence will be scheduled. A petition to modify a custody order is uniform throughout Pennsylvania.

Appeal of a Child Custody Order

Another option, aside from a petition to modify a custody order, is to file an appeal. An appeal must come from a final decision, which would be the final custody order of the family court. A period of 30 days from the date of the final order is the usual timeline. The appeal is made to the Superior Court alleging that the final family court order contained legal or procedural errors or involved abuse of judicial discretion. Appeals involve legal briefs, oral arguments, and definite costs to the appellant. The trained professionals at the offices of the LLF Family Law Team can advise you of any merits of an appeal from a final custody order from the Luzerne County Court of Common Pleas. The right to an appeal from a family court final custody order exists throughout Pennsylvania.

Violation of Child Custody Order by an Ex

A final court order on custody issued by the family court in Luzerne County is an official and enforceable decree. A violation of its terms by a custodial party is a serious offense and can amount to contempt of court, fines, or even imprisonment. To show that a violation has occurred, the complainant files a Petition for Contempt in Luzerne County, specifically detailing the violations of the order and the reasons the defendant should be held in contempt of court. If the violation has occurred repeatedly, the petition can request that the custody order be revised or modified to ensure that the violation of the court order will not be repeated. An example of a repeated violation would be where the welfare of the child is endangered by the repeated reckless acts of the violating party.

Get Help with Your Custody Issues Today

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team has experience with the family court rules in Luzerne County and is available to help you with your issues regarding child custody. The court must always consider the best interests of the child in a custody case, and the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team will always seek to support your position in obtaining the best legal result possible with your child's welfare in mind. We will do the research and gather the evidence necessary to support you and your child in relation to a desirable outcome on child custody issues. We will also pursue all legal remedies available for you and your child.

If your Ex has violated the custody terms of a final order, we will help you evaluate all your options to enforce a contempt of court violation. If you have been accused of violating custody terms, our offices will work to present a justifiable defense to explain and protect your rights over child custody issues. Our experienced attorneys can help both parties work to reach a mutual agreement. We can also use our experience with the Luzerne County Family Court system to help create a custody agreement document that will be agreeable to both parties and acceptable to the Family Court judge. We are further able to evaluate, write, and argue any family court appeal should the circumstances justify that option.

If you are facing a child custody issue in Luzerne County, contact the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team offices today at 888.535.3686 or contact us. Your well-being and that of your child deserve it.

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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