Child Custody in Montgomery County

Navigating child custody issues in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, requires a deep understanding of state laws and a keen awareness of the unique factors influencing family dynamics. Even in situations where individuals agree on how their children should be cared for, a judge still must review the agreement and enter a legally binding order. From determining primary custodianship to visitation rights and the establishment of parenting plans, Montgomery County's family courts address a range of issues that directly impact the well-being of children, especially those involving separation or divorce. 

Even though two individuals may have their children's best interests in mind, retaining professional help is wise to secure their best outcome. The attorneys at the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team have years of experience assisting in Montgomery County child custody cases and working with families in other legal matters. For a committed approach to your child custody issues to guide you through the legal intricacies of these sensitive and significant cases, call us at 888-535-3686 or submit a confidential online consultation form, and we will contact you. 

Where Are Child Custody Cases Heard in Montgomery County? 

All child custody cases at the Common Pleas level are managed by the Prothonotary's Office in the Montgomery County Courthouse at 2 East Airy Street in Norristown. This is where complaints and related documents are to be filed, and those involved will appear in court before a judge. 

Child custody cases are heard by hearing officers and judges who primarily deal with domestic relations issues. Among the other types of issues family court judges handle are divorce, child and spousal support, protection orders, adoption, and other matters. 

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody? 

Custody determines which individual—or what combination of both—has the legal caretaking responsibilities of the child or children involved in the matter. Many times, custody can be settled informally, outside of the courtroom, but when a hearing officer or judge is involved, there are many elements that must be considered to determine what type of custody is best. 

There are two types of child custody

  • Physical custody: Determines responsibility for day-to-day care, including providing food, clothing, and shelter, as well as transportation to and from school, activities, doctor appointments, and other circumstances. Physical custody can be awarded to one parent or shared, with each parent spending time with the child. 
  • Legal custody: Establishes who makes significant decisions about the child's care and upbringing, like religious practices, the child's school, or the medical care the child will receive. Legal custody can also be a shared responsibility, but in cases where it's awarded to one individual, it may not be the same as who was granted physical custody.  

Some requirements must be met before a Montgomery County judge hears a child custody case. For instance, a child must have lived in the locality for at least six months. However, the county will exclude instances like the following: 

  • The child is less than six months old. 
  • The child was abandoned or abused. 
  • The child's siblings or parents have been abused. 

Furthermore, only certain individuals are allowed to file a child custody case. Depending on the situation, one of the following are eligible: 

  • A person who has adopted the child. 
  • A grandparent (having taken care of the child for 12 months or if a child is at risk of abuse or neglect). 
  • A guardian that has cared for the child and assumed parental responsibilities. 
  • A person willing to assume parental responsibility and has a long-standing interest in the child's welfare (in cases where neither parent can provide care). 

Most child custody agreements and orders end in shared custody. But, some parents may receive sole custody, where one parent will take care of the child while the other has visitation rights, which may have to be supervised by a court-appointed agency or monitor. 

Procedure to Resolve Child Custody Cases in Montgomery County 

In most cases, the first step in a child custody case in Montgomery County involves filing a Complaint for Custody with the Family Matters division. If the situation is urgent, where the child's health, safety, or welfare is in immediate danger, it may also be necessary to file an Emergency Petition, typically reviewed and decided within one business day. 

In cases where there are issues that need to be decided quickly but don't pose an immediate threat to the child, a Petition for Expedited Relief will result in the matter being considered by the court more quickly than during the ordinary course of resolving a Complaint for Custody. In cases where no emergency or expedited relief is requested, the matter will be assigned to a hearing officer for a conference. 

The hearing officer will meet with both parties at a pre-determined time and room in the Montgomery County Courthouse and attempt to help them come to an agreement on child custody terms. In cases where both sides agree on their terms, the court will review and determine whether or not they are in the child's best interests. 

If no agreement can be reached before the Hearing Officer, the matter will be left up to the judge to decide. In some cases, the judge may encourage both parties to use the services of a mediator appointed by the court. A mediator is a trained third party present to assist in building an agreement on custody terms. If there is still no agreement, a hearing will be held, either before the Hearing Officer or before the judge. At the hearing, each side will have a chance to present evidence – witnesses and documents – in favor of their child custody position. 

There are multiple factors that go into making a custody decision. Judges will consider characteristics of the situation that include but are not limited to the following: 

  • The degree of conflict or cooperation between both parties. 
  • One party's likelihood of encouraging contact between the child and the other party. 
  • Each party's parental duties, including their work schedules. 
  • Past abusive behavior, including drug or alcohol use or mental health issues. 
  • The ability of either party to care for the child's emotional needs or other special needs. 
  • The availability of either party's extended family. 
  • The child's relationship with any siblings. 
  • The child's age, intelligence, maturity, and preference. 
  • The child's stability in education, home life, and life in the community 

Again, the focus of the judge or Hearing Officer is on what will be in the child's best interests, which may mean arriving at a child custody order that neither parent is satisfied with. A hearing officer may issue a recommended custody order that, in most cases, the judge will then sign as a formal order. 

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

If the child custody case was heard by a hearing officer, each party has 20 days following the issuance of the proposed custody order to file "exceptions," which explain problems with the determinations. A judge will hold a hearing to rule on the exceptions, where the parties will present arguments in support of or against the hearing officer's proposed child custody order. 

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

  • Parties may file a motion for reconsideration with the judge at the Montgomery County Courthouse. 
  • Parties may file an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania's Prothonotary's Office, which is located at 530 Walnut Street in Philadelphia. The appeal must be filed within 30 days of when the judge issues the custody order (whether or not a motion for reconsideration has been filed). 

What Happens If My Ex Violates the Child Custody Order in Montgomery County? 

Because the child custody order is an official court order, violating its terms is a serious matter. The party who violates the terms of a child custody order can be held in contempt of court, which can mean having to pay a fine or being imprisoned. However, the accusing party needs to file a Petition for Contempt of Custody Order with the same court that decided the child custody matter. 

Sometimes, one party may commit multiple violations of the custody order. In that case, the other party may ask the court to revise the order to mitigate further instances. For instance, one party may repeatedly refuse to take the child to school or appointments or even return a child according to the custody schedule set by the court. Petitions will also be heard if one party puts a child in danger. 

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

Despite either party's wish to amend a court order—even in circumstances where the child's health, safety, or welfare is at risk—any changes to those terms must also be arranged by a judge. Even if both parents agree to do things differently than required by the child custody order, those changes—no matter how small or seemingly inconsequential—need to be approved by the judge. 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 the Family Matter division in Montgomery County to modify the order. This 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 if one party seeks to modify an existing order, a judge must hold a hearing to 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. 

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

Even if parents believe they are acting in the best interests of their child, they still need to retain the assistance of a legal professional. Child custody orders may often have complex wording, and the slightest breach of a judge's order has the potential to cause severe personal and professional implications for any individual. 

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team has years of experience helping parents with child custody issues in Montgomery County. We will work with you to gather the information you need to support your position relating to the terms of the child custody order and will fight for your rights as a parent while protecting your child's best interests throughout the entire process. 

Our team of dedicated attorneys will be a significant benefit to you and the wishes of your child for the following reasons: 

  • Building child custody agreements: We can help craft a custody agreement acceptable to both parties that will also be suitable to the judge. There's no sense in coming to an agreement only to have the judge rule against it. 
  • Disputing or modifying custody orders: Our team can advise you in situations where you are seeking to modify the existing order or where you disagree that a requested modification is appropriate. We understand how courts resolve disputed custody orders and are ready to assist you. We can help in situations where you are seeking to modify the existing order or where you disagree that a requested modification is appropriate. 
  • Defend against violations: We understand the requirements for contempt petitions in family court matters in Montgomery County. Our experienced attorneys can help you file or defend against a petition filed with the court. 

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team stands prepared to help any parent, guardian, or person with a dedication to a child's best interests navigate Montgomery County's legal landscape. We will guide you through every step of the process to protect your rights as a parent and those of your child. 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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