Child Custody in Northampton County

Child custody disputes are often stressful for all involved parties. Even when parents agree on most custody agreements, one or two areas may make it difficult to come to a full agreement. Or parents may disagree on everything from how to divide physical custody to whether they'll split legal custody.  

While custody orders are common when parents divorce, parents don't have to be married to enter into a custody order. Parents may initially agree on an order only for changes to their lives to require modification. Or one parent may not be following the custody order. When both parents are unable to care for children, non-parents may also file for custody.   

You want what's best for your child. If you reside in Northampton County, the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help you at any point in your child custody case. We focus on protecting our client's interests and finding solutions that are in your child's best interests. Call us at 888-535-3686 or fill out our online form

In Pennsylvania, custody decisions often center on what's in the best interests of a child. When possible, courts encourage custody agreements that foster a child's relationship with both parents. Even when a court may not believe a parent is capable of caring for a child, a court may still require visitation. 

Who Can File for Custody in Northampton County? 

Where to file a custody dispute depends on the residence of the child, not the parents. In general, if a parent resides in Northampton County but a child doesn't, a parent would need to file custody in the county where the child resides.  

While the majority of those seeking custody orders are parents, non-parents may also file for custody. Non-parent custody occurs when parents are unable to care for children. Examples of non-parents seeking custody include: 

  • Grandparent 
  • Other relatives 
  • A child's guardian, or anyone standing in loco parentis 

How Do I File For Custody in Northampton County? 

Parents can file one of three motions involving child custody: 

  • A new complaint 
  • A petition for modification 
  • A petition for contempt 

Parents must physically submit all petitions to the Motion's Court between 8:30 and 9:30 on weekday mornings. Their case will then go to the Civil Division for a conference with one of the county's two custody conference officers. Both parents will be given potential dates for the conference before scheduling a time. 

Parents can agree on custody at any point in the process. If parents reach an agreement either before or during a conference, the custody conference offer will prepare a custody order. This order will then be submitted to the President Judge for signature before being filed in the Civil Division. Both parties will receive a copy of this order via mail. 

If parents are unable to reach a custody agreement during the conference, they will next participate in a mediation session. Mediation sessions occur with an officer of the court and one of the county's judges. 

If parents are unable to agree during mediation, the case may proceed to a non-jury trial. These trials follow the same rules of evidence as any other trial within Northampton County. A lawyer can help parents determine what evidence is admissible and will help build the strongest case for their request.  

Emergency or Expedited Petitions 

In emergency situations or when there's an immediate threat to a child's health or safety, parents or other adults seeking custody may file a Petition for Emergency Relief. Emergency petitions are generally heard within one day.  

For situations that are urgent but don't rise to the level of an emergency, parents or other adults may file a Petition for Expedited Relief. This will generally move up a hearing so that it would be heard sooner. 

Parents should only file emergency or expedited relief petitions when there is a need for prompt action. They should not use them because they're impatient or want to avoid waiting. Judges may request evidence of why an emergency or expedited petition is needed, and parents who file these requests without reason may damage their custody case.  

New Complaints 

Individuals, usually parents, will file forms related to a new complaint when: 

  • No current custody order exists 
  • The children have resided in Northampton County for at least six months 

Petition for Modification 

Parents will file for a modification when they want to alter or change an existing custody order. Modifications can be made for any reason. A child changing schools, a parent beginning a new job, or a parent moving: All of these life changes may necessitate an alteration to an existing custody order. 

Moving is one of the most common reasons for a modification. The parent who isn't moving will file a counter-affidavit in response to the petition. In this counter-affidavit, the parent will state whether they have any objections to the proposed move or modifications. A parent may, for example, not object to the move but disagree with the proposed modifications.  

If a modification involves the children moving out of Northampton County or Pennsylvania, parents should consult with an attorney to understand how and why this move may affect any custody order and in what situations parents will need to file a custody order in a new area. 

Petition for Contempt 

Parents will file a petition for contempt when they believe or have evidence that the other parent is violating the custody order. They will need to provide information on why they believe or know the other parent is violating a custody order. 

What Are the Types of Child Custody? 

Pennsylvania divides custody into physical and legal. The court considers a parent's ability to meet a child's physical, emotional, and social needs.  

Physical custody is about the physical care of a child, such as a child sleeping in that parent's home and that parent being responsible for a child's care. This includes ensuring a child has sufficient food and medical care, can get to and from school and other activities, etc. 

Legal custody involves decisions about a child's care and upbringing. What religion a child practices, what medical care a child receives, and what school a child attends are all examples of legal custody.  

Both physical and legal custody can be joint or sole. In joint custody, parents share time and/or decisions about the child. In sole custody, one parent is solely responsible for providing care and/or making decisions about a child. Pennsylvania prefers to award joint physical and legal custody when possible, but the determination is on what's in a child's best interests.  

Physical and legal custody may also be decided differently. Parents may share physical custody, while one parent has sole legal custody. Pennsylvania lists the following as types of custody: 

  • Shared physical custody 
  • Primary physical custody 
  • Partial physical custody 
  • Sole physical custody 
  • Shared legal custody 
  • Sole legal custody 

Interim Awards 

A judge may also issue an interim award, which is a temporary decision on legal and/or physical custody. In situations when parents are still living at the same residence, a custody order in Northampton County won't come into force until one parent moves or a court order awards one party sole ownership or possession of the property.  

Supervised Physical Custody 

In situations where a parent isn't able to care for a child, they may not be granted custody but may be granted supervised physical custody, more commonly known as visitation. Visitation allows a parent to continue their relationship with a child in limited settings. Visitation may be either supervised or unsupervised. 

For supervised physical custody, a third party will accompany a parent and child during their time together. This individual will be someone assigned by the court to supervise these visits, and both parents must agree with the assigned individual. 

What Factors Are Considered When Awarding Custody in Northampton County? 

The overriding consideration when determining custody is what's in a child's best interests. Courts also want, when possible, for a child to have a relationship with both parents. Parents may hurt their case if they act in a way that limits or damages a child's relationship with the other parent.  

Courts will consider several factors, including:  

  • Whether either parent or a member of their household has a history of domestic violence, including any risk of harm to the child 
  • What role each parent has played in a child's life to date 
  • What option would best provide a child with stability in their education and daily life 
  • If a child has extended family, what role do relatives play in the child's life 
  • Depending on a child's age and maturity, the child's preference 
  • Which parent is more likely to provide a child with a loving, stable, consistent, and nurturing relationship and support system 
  • Which parent is more likely to care for the child or be able to make child-care arrangements 
  • If either parent or a member of their household has a history of drug or alcohol abuse  

What doesn't enter into a custody consideration is a parent's financial situation. Courts won't award custody based on one parent making significantly more money. Financial considerations come into play in child support decisions, not child custody. 

Does Northampton Require a Parenting Plan as Part of a Custody Order? 

Courts may require parents to submit a parenting plan, but a parenting plan isn't a required part of a custody order. Parents can find a copy of the form for parenting plans at the Law Library of the Northampton County Court of Common Pleas.  

Parenting plans are intended to act as a guide for all aspects of a child's life and to minimize future disagreements. Plans may include a schedule for holidays and school vacations, a child's diet, a child's religion, and how much notice is required for changes to physical custody agreements. A parenting plan may also include whether both or one parent is responsible for these decisions.  

What Happens When a Parent Disobeys a Custody Order in Northampton County?  

When one parent violates any part of a custody order, the other parent may file a petition. This petition asks that the parent in violation be held in contempt of court. A petition should include the following information: 

  • How the custody order was violated 
  • The dates of the violation 

The parent who files the petition must serve or provide a copy of the petition to the other parent. They must also present a copy to the Motions Judge. 

The judge will first schedule an initial conference with a custody case manager. If the custody case manager cannot resolve the problem, the next step is a hearing before a judge. If a parent is found to have violated a custody order, they may be found in contempt, which could result in up to six months in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.  

Parents may settle at any point after one parent has filed a petition for contempt. The majority of contempt cases reach an agreement before the hearing, and Northampton County encourages parents to seek a resolution. 

How Can Adults Other Than Parents Petition for Custody in Northampton County? 

While the majority of custody cases involve parents, other adults may file for custody. When they file, non-parents will need to show: 

  • A willingness to assume responsibility for the child 
  • They have a sustained, substantial, and sincere interest in the child's welfare 
  • Neither parent has any form of care and/or control of the child 

A judge will look at the individual's involvement in a child's life when considering a non-parents custody petition and use factors such as: 

  • The nature of the petitioner's involvement 
  • The quality of time spent together 
  • How long the individual has been involved in a child's life 
  • The extent of the individual's involvement in a child's life 

In comparison to when parents file for custody, non-parents who file for custody will often face a more complicated process. They will have to do more to establish their relationship with the child and may also have to show why they are a preferable choice to other individuals. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help non-parents establish the needed evidence and proof that shows an individual's relationship to a child and why they should be granted custody.  

How to Successfully Navigate Child Custody in Northampton County 

Child custody orders can have an enormous impact, good and bad, on a child and a child's relationship with their parents. Custody issues can arise at any point, including when one parent needs to modify an order.  

Whether a parent is refusing to negotiate or consider the best interests of your child, if your child's safety is at risk, or if you want to find a way to reach an agreement with minimal disruption to your child, the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help. We focus on keeping children's best interests front and center during child custody disputes. Call us at 888-535-3686 or fill out the LLF Law Firm online contact 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.

This website was created only for general information purposes. It is not intended to be construed as legal advice for any situation. Only a direct consultation with a licensed Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York attorney can provide you with formal legal counsel based on the unique details surrounding your situation. The pages on this website may contain links and contact information for third party organizations - the Lento Law Firm does not necessarily endorse these organizations nor the materials contained on their website. In Pennsylvania, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout Pennsylvania's 67 counties, including, but not limited to Philadelphia, Allegheny, Berks, Bucks, Carbon, Chester, Dauphin, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Schuylkill, and York County. In New Jersey, attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New Jersey's 21 counties: Atlantic, Bergen, Burlington, Camden, Cape May, Cumberland, Essex, Gloucester, Hudson, Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth, Morris, Ocean, Passaic, Salem, Somerset, Sussex, Union, and Warren County, In New York, Attorney Joseph D. Lento represents clients throughout New York's 62 counties. Outside of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, unless attorney Joseph D. Lento is admitted pro hac vice if needed, his assistance may not constitute legal advice or the practice of law. The decision to hire an attorney in Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania counties, New Jersey, New York, or nationwide should not be made solely on the strength of an advertisement. We invite you to contact the Lento Law Firm directly to inquire about our specific qualifications and experience. Communicating with the Lento Law Firm by email, phone, or fax does not create an attorney-client relationship. The Lento Law Firm will serve as your official legal counsel upon a formal agreement from both parties. Any information sent to the Lento Law Firm before an attorney-client relationship is made is done on a non-confidential basis.