Child custody issues can be some of the most difficult and stressful ones to resolve when a couple is separating or divorcing. Even in situations where the two individuals agree on how their children should be cared for, the process still requires a judge to review the agreement and enter a formal order that makes the agreement enforceable. In Philadelphia County, child custody cases are resolved in the Court of Common Pleas Domestic Relations court, also known as Family Court. The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can help protect your rights in Philadelphia County child custody cases, whether or not there is a dispute about custody terms. Call us today at 888.535.3686 or use the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team's contact link to set up a confidential consultation to learn more about how we can help.
Where Are Child Custody Cases Heard in Philadelphia County?
Family Court for Philadelphia County is located at 1501 Arch Street in Philadelphia. This is where child custody complaints and related documents are filed and where the family court judges and their courtrooms are located. If you have a child custody matter filed in Philadelphia County and need to appear in court for that matter, this is where your matter will be heard.
Child custody matters are heard by hearing officers and judges who specifically deal with domestic relations issues. Among the other types of issues that Family Court judges handle are divorce, child and spousal support, and domestic violence matters.
What Are the Different Types of Child Custody?
There are two types of child custody: Physical custody and legal custody. It's important to understand the difference between these two because both need to be addressed when a judge issues a custody order in Philadelphia.
- Physical custody relates to who is responsible for the day-to-day care of the child; who will provide food, clothing, and shelter for the child and will be responsible for making sure the child gets to and from school, activities, doctor and dentist appointments, and the like. Physical custody can be awarded primarily to one parent, or it can be shared, with each parent spending significant amounts of time with the child. In some cases, one parent may have sole custody of the child; in those or other cases, one parent may be allowed only limited visits with the child, which may have to be supervised by a court-appointed agency or monitor.
- Legal custody relates to who makes significant decisions about the child's care and upbringing, for example, what religion the child will practice, where the child will attend school, or what types of medical care the child will receive. This can be a shared decision, or the court may award legal custody to only one parent, which is not always the same parent who may have physical custody.
What Are the Requirements to Be Able to Seek Custody of a Child in Philadelphia County?
Generally speaking, a child must have been living in Philadelphia County for at least six months before the Family Court will consider a custody case relating to that child. There are exceptions to this; for example, if the child is less than six months old, or where the grounds for custody are that the child has been abandoned or abused, or their sibling or parent has been abused.
Only certain people are allowed to bring custody cases. Depending on the situation, a party who has standing to bring a custody case could be a parent, a grandparent, someone who may not be a parent of the child but has been caring for the child and has assumed parental responsibilities for the child; or a person who is willing to be responsible for the child and has a long-standing interest in the child's welfare (in cases where neither parent is able to care for the child).
What is the Procedure Used to Resolve Child Custody Cases in Philadelphia County?
In most cases, the first step in a child custody case in Philadelphia County involves filing a “Complaint for Custody” with the Family Court Intake Unit. If the situation is urgent, one where the child's health, safety, or welfare is in immediate danger, it may also be necessary to file a “Petition for Emergency Relief,” which will generally be reviewed and ruled on within a day of when it's filed. 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 normal course of resolving a Complaint for Custody.
In cases where there is no emergency or expedited relief requested, the matter will be assigned to a Custody Hearing Officer for a conference. Both parties will be notified of the date and time of the conference and in what room of Family Court it's being held. The Hearing Officer will meet with both parties and will attempt to help them come to an agreement on child custody terms. In cases where both sides are able to agree, the court will review those terms and decide whether or not they are in the best interests of the child. Working with an experienced attorney from the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team will help you make sure that even in a situation where both sides agree on how custody will be handled, the agreement will consider all of the issues that the judge is likely to raise when deciding if that agreement is 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 – not the hearing officer, but a trained third party – to try to reach 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. 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.
If the matter is heard by a Hearing Officer, the officer will issue a recommended custody order that, in most cases, the judge will then sign as a formal child custody order. In all cases – whether the parties agree on the proposed child custody order term, whether there is a hearing before a Hearing Officer who then proposes child custody order terms, or where the hearing is before a Family Court judge – then the end result will be a child custody order issued by the Family Court judge.
The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team has helped many clients with their child custody matters in Philadelphia County and across Pennsylvania. We understand what's at stake and are ready to help you protect your rights and secure a child custody order that is in your child's best interests.
What if I Disagree with the Terms of a Child Custody Order in Philadelphia County?
Where the child custody dispute was heard by a Hearing Officer and not a judge, the parties have 20 days after the hearing officer issues a proposed custody order to file what are called “exceptions” to that proposed order. The exceptions must explain what the problems are with the Hearing Officer's proposed child custody order. Once the exceptions are filed, the judge will hold a hearing to rule on the exceptions, where the parties will be able to argue for (or against) the hearing officer's proposed child custody order.
Where the child custody matter was heard by a judge and a party is unhappy with the custody order, there are two options: one is to file a motion for reconsideration with the judge. The second is to file an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania, which is located at 530 Walnut Street in Philadelphia, which must be done within 30 days of when the judge issues the custody order (whether or not a motion for reconsideration has been filed).
The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team can advise you if a child custody order has been issued that you disagree with, or if the other party to the child custody case is challenging an order that you agree with. We understand the law and procedures that courts use to resolve disputed custody orders and are ready and able to advise you based on the facts of your particular case.
What Happens if My Ex Violates the Child Custody Order in Philadelphia County?
Because the child custody order is an official court order issued by a judge of the Family Court in Philadelphia, 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. Before that can happen, however, the other party needs to file a Petition for Contempt with the same court that decided the child custody matter.
In many cases where one party violates the terms of a custody order – particularly where the violations happen more than once – the other party may ask the court to revise the order to make it less likely that the violations will happen again. This can happen, for example, in cases where one parent refuses to return a child according to the custody schedule set by the court or where a parent repeatedly places the child in a situation where the child's welfare is in jeopardy.
The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team understands the requirements for contempt petitions in family court matters in Philadelphia. Our experienced attorneys can help you file – or defend against – a contempt petition brought in Philadelphia County Family Court.
What if I Want to Change the Terms of a Custody Order in Philadelphia County?
Because child custody orders are court orders that direct each parent to do certain things relating to their child's welfare, any changes to those terms must also be ordered by the judge. Even if both parents agree to do things differently than required by the child custody order, those changes need to be approved by the judge, or both parents risk being found in contempt of the court's custody order.
The reason for this is that the focus of a child custody order is on what is in the child's best interests, not what is convenient for one or both parents. The proper way to make changes to a child custody order is by filing a motion with the Family Court in Philadelphia to modify the order. This will allow the judge to review the reasons for the request to modify and to decide whether the proposed modification is in the child's best interests.
In other cases, only one spouse may want to modify the existing child custody order. Here, too, the procedure is to file a motion with the Philadelphia Family Court explaining what the requested modification is and why it's needed. The judge can then 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 as a compromise.
The experienced attorneys who make up the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team understand the standards that judges in Philadelphia County use when evaluating and deciding custody order modification motions. We can help in situations where you are seeking to modify the existing order or where you disagree that a requested modification is appropriate.
How the LLF Law Firm Can Help You With Custody Issues in Philadelphia County
The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team has years of experience helping parents with child custody issues in Philadelphia 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 at the same time keeping in mind that the court will at all times look to what is going to be in your child's best interests.
If there is a violation of custody terms, we will help you enforce them; if you're accused of violating custody terms, we will defend you against contempt charges.
While we are experienced with helping our clients when there is a dispute about child custody terms, we can also help the parties come to an agreement on them. One of the most helpful things our attorneys can do for you is to use their experience with the Family Court in Philadelphia to help craft a custody agreement acceptable to both parties that will also be acceptable to the Family Court judge. It does nobody any good to come to an agreement only to have the judge rule against it.
If you are facing a child custody issue in Philadelphia County, contact the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team today at 888.535.3686, or by using our contact form to set up a confidential consultation. Your child's future is important to you; let us help you secure it.