Child Custody in Northumberland County

Child custody cases are often fraught with the complexities of scheduling various parental duties, being mindful of a child's best interests, and the emotional strife associated with discussing personal matters in a legal process. Parents believe they can manage to divide their responsibilities among their children without professional help, but creating a judge-approved legal order is more challenging than many realize. Managing the child custody process in Northumberland County requires a deep knowledge of a few critical points:

  • Pennsylvania's laws governing child welfare.
  • How the judge may react to agreements.
  • How Northumberland County's procedures work.

Despite a parent's wish to protect their child's best interests, ensuring the best outcome in a child custody case requires help from a local team that understands the above points. Known throughout Northumberland County and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team prides itself on working with families to secure the best outcome in child custody cases. Don't wait to retain help when you're in the middle of child custody hearings; reach out now to a dedicated team of attorneys to guide you. Call the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team at 888-535-3686 or fill out our confidential online consultation form, and we will reach out to you.

Where Are Child Custody Cases Heard in Northumberland County?

All child custody cases in Northumberland County begin with a custody complaint or divorce complaint that contains a custody count. For county residents, all complaints are filed through and managed by the local Prothonotary's Office at 201 Market Street in Sunbury at the Northumberland County Courthouse.

The Prothonotary's Office is where parents begin the custody process and where orders are petitioned, modified, or disputed. Typically, Pennsylvania's child custody matters are decided by a hearing officer or judge. In Northumberland County, parties seeking a custody order are first handled by a Custody Conference Officer.

What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?

Most individuals seeking a child custody order will understand the nature of primary custody and partial custody. However, the final order filed with the court will often include variations of parental duties defined as follows:

  • Physical custody: Approved to one party or both and details daily responsibilities such as providing housing, food, clothing, and transportation to school, specific activities, and medical appointments. Physical custody can be sole, primary, shared, or partial, with or without supervision.
  • Legal custody: Granted to one or both parties and confirms who will make major— typically more long-term—decisions regarding child raising and overall care like attending a school, spiritual or religious upbringing, medical procedures, and others. Legal custody is either sole or joint.

Parties seeking a child custody order in Pennsylvania must understand that it's up to the judge's discretion to grant physical and legal custody. Critically, just because one party has legal custody doesn't mean they'll have physical custody of a child. Furthermore, it isn't just parents or ex-spouses who can seek a custody order; the following are also eligible to file a child custody case.

  • Individuals who have legally adopted the child or have a long-standing interest in the child's welfare when neither parent can assume caregiver responsibilities.
  • Grandparents that have provided care for at least 12 months or if the child is at risk of abuse or neglect.
  • Guardians who have assumed parental responsibility over the child.

Pennsylvania courts determine custody based on the best interests of the child. Some common factors include how they are affected by parental duties, developmental and emotional needs, and the availability of either party's extended family for child care, among others pertinent to the case.

What if There Is an Emergency Child Custody Situation?

In most cases, the first step in a child custody case in Northumberland County involves filing a Custody Complaint. The timeframe of each case depends on the factors involved; however, some situations require more urgency.

When one party believes there is an "immediate clear and present danger to the child" or an "emergency requiring immediate court action," they may file a Petition for Special Relief. The Northumberland County Custody Conference Officer or another court authority will conduct an immediate ex parte hearing, held within two business days of the petition.

After the proceeding, the Custody Conference Officer will forward a summary report to the court to review, determining whether ex parte relief is warranted. If the court agrees, a hearing is scheduled within ten days of the temporary order, with the responding party served a notice as they would for the standard custody trial process.

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

Parties are free to meet and discuss the aspects of child custody before filing paperwork or entering a courtroom—in fact, the Commonwealth encourages it. However, parties must validate their agreements and stipulations with the local court for a legally binding order protecting each signatory and, most importantly, any children involved.

When the Prothonotary's Office receives a petition for a child custody order, the Custody Conference Officer will set a date for an initial conference and file a scheduling order. During the conference, the Custody Conference Officer has the following goals:

  • Mediating differences between the parties.
  • Encouraging agreements on legal custody and physical custody.
  • Referring the parties for counseling and other related services.

The Custody Conference Officer may also receive testimony from the parties, documentation, and evidence, including legal and medical records, and, when appropriate, statements from any children involved. Importantly, statements made are not admissible as evidence in any custody hearing before the court in order to facilitate open and meaningful exchanges between the parties.

If the parties reach an agreement during the initial conference resolving all issues raised, the Custody Conference Officer prepares an order forwarded to the court for review. If approved, it's filed with the Prothonotary's Office. When parties fail to resolve custody matters, the court receives a conference summary report detailing the agreed-upon subject matter and what is left to settle. Both parties will receive a date for a custody trial.

At the trial, each party has the chance to exhibit evidence, including testimony from witnesses—such as family, friends, and neighbors—and use other relevant materials to advocate for their position before the judge. Nevertheless, there are multiple factors a judge may consider to uphold the best interests of the children involved. For instance, some common elements include but are not limited to the following:

  • Any abusive or negligent behavior involving either party or the child.
  • Past and present conflict or disagreements between the parties.
  • Whether either party supports or facilitates contact between the children and the other party.
  • The parental duties of each party.
  • Either party's level of cooperation during the custody process.

While most of the trial will focus on the situation between the parents or ex-spouses involved, they must prioritize the children's best interests. Subsequently, children will be asked to answer questions and testify, and the following are also taken into consideration to determine custody:

  • The age, intelligence, maturity, and parental preference of each child.
  • The relationships between the child and any siblings.
  • The child's education load, home life, community connections, and extracurricular activities.

Even though parents also hold their children's best interests at heart, there may be times when the judge's recommended course of action may seem inadequate or unacceptable. When an order is filed with the Northumberland County Prothonotary's Office, it's enforced by law. However, if parties disagree, there are ways to appeal the decision or amend custody parameters.

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

If a party in a child custody case disagrees with the final order, there are opportunities for redress. Individuals may petition the Northumberland County Courthouse for the judge to reconsider the matter. Unless a procedural error occurred or bias existed during the process, it's unlikely for the judge to overturn the order.

Fortunately, individuals can also appeal the decision through the Superior Court of Pennsylvania's Prothonotary's Office. Northumberland County residents must file with the Superior Court's Harrisburg office at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center at 601 Commonwealth Avenue, Suite 1600.

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

Whether either party seeks to amend a child custody schedule or court order, the amendment must go through the proper channels to be validated by the courts. To make alterations to a child custody order, parties must file a Petition for Modification with the Northumberland County Prothonotary's Office.

The court will schedule a date and time for a trial, and at the trial, the court will review the evidence and, if necessary, take testimony from any witnesses. No matter how small the alteration is to the child's life or the custody schedule, it must be signed off by a judge. The process provides a thorough review of the reasons for the alteration. It allows the judge to decide whether the proposed modifications are in the best interests of the children involved.

However, the process is different if one of the parties wants to relocate. If the child's change of residence will significantly weaken the non-relocating party's capacity to perform custodial rights, the relocating party must file a Notice of Proposed Relocation at least 60 days before moving. Parties must provide the court with the following:

  • New mailing address and home telephone number.
  • Names and ages of those living at the new residence.
  • Name of the new school district and school for the child to attend.
  • Date of the relocation and reasons why.

A hearing is held to validate the above information, and if agreed upon, is filed with the Prothonotary's Office. If the relocation is denied, the petition party may appeal the decision within 30 days.

What Happens if My Former Spouse Violates the Child Custody Order?

Anyone violating a child custody order can face contempt of court charges, which include potential fines and imprisonment. For example, the following persistent violations can easily send the case in front of a judge:

  • Failing to transport or pick up the child to school on time.
  • Missing and failing to maintain doctor's appointments.
  • Failing to return the child on time after visitation.

To initiate this process after an alleged violation, one must file a Petition for Contempt of Custody Order. After the court receives a completed petition, a date and time for a hearing will be scheduled. The court will review any relevant evidence and receive testimony from witnesses involved, which may likely lead to the judge amending the child custody order.

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

Parents in the throes of the child custody process may not see the risk of navigating it alone. Pennsylvania's proceedings are complex, and child custody orders can quickly become emotionally heavy and could affect either party's judgment. Even if parents believe they are working for their child's benefit, they still need professional assistance to ensure they understand the entirety of the order, including the potential violations.

The LLF Law Firm stands prepared with years of experience helping parents with child custody matters in Northumberland County. We will assist you in the following crucial ways:

  • Creating child custody agreements: We can help you design a child custody agreement acceptable to you and the other party and one a judge will accept.
  • Disputing or modifying child custody orders: We will advise you when to seek modifications to an existing order or defend your position when the other party requests an adjustment.
  • Filing or defending against child custody order violations: Custody orders often contain trying language, making you increasingly vulnerable to violations. We will also ensure other parties follow the rules you agreed to.

Our team of dedicated attorneys is a valuable investment and will support and advocate your position for the child custody order, defend your rights as a parent, and safeguard your child's best interests. 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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