Child Custody in Westmoreland County

Separation and divorce can be difficult experiences for all family members, including children. Their well-being should remain at the center of decision-making when it comes to where they should live and how they should be cared for. In ideal circumstances, both parties are able to agree on arrangements that are in their children's best interests and to see eye to eye on important decisions in their children's upbringing, like medical care, religion, and education. But this isn't always the reality, and in many cases, family courts have a key role to play in arbitrating such decisions.

It's a system that is intended to protect those most vulnerable in an unfortunate situation, but that doesn't mean the system always gets it right. Often, parents and guardians need to advocate or even fight for what they know is best for their children. Even in the most amicable divorces, including those in which both parties agree on placement, visitation, vacation time, who pays for health insurance, and so on, ensuring agreements are in writing and formally filing them with the local family court (so they can be enforced, if necessary) is key, especially for the protection of children involved. Even the most civil breakups can change direction quickly and unexpectedly. 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.

The Westmoreland County Domestic Relations Section of the Court of Common Pleas, also known as Family Court, oversees child custody placement and enforcement in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Westmoreland County strongly advises those involved in custody cases to seek legal representation, offering this warning on the legal forms you must complete: "Custody is civil litigation and is a very serious matter. It is highly recommended that you hire an attorney to represent you in any custody action."

Contact the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team today for assistance with your Westmoreland County child custody case, whether your case is contested or uncontested.

Who Oversees Child Custody Cases Heard in Westmoreland County?

Westmoreland County's Family Court is located at 2 N. Main St. in Greensburg. It is here that you would file child custody forms and related documents. If you have a child custody matter in Westmoreland County and need to appear in court for that matter, your case will be heard here by a hearing officer or judge. These officials also deal with related domestic relations issues such as 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. When a hearing officer or judge issues a child custody order in Westmoreland County, they will award both types to one or more parents or guardians.

● A parent or guardian who has physical custody of a child is considered the custodial parent and is responsible for their day-to-day care. Physical custody can be awarded to just one parent, or it can be shared in any number of ways. The custodial parent is responsible for providing meals, safe housing, utilities, childcare, transportation to and from school or doctor's appointments, and so on. A parent might have physical custody of their child as well as legal custody, or they may have physical custody only, possibly with visits supervised by a court-appointed agency or monitor.

● A parent or guardian with legal custody of a child is able to make significant decisions about the child's care and upbringing, such as what religion the child will practice, where the child will attend school, or what types of medical care the child will receive. As with physical custody, legal custody can be shared, or it can be awarded to one parent or guardian only.

What Are the Requirements for Seeking Custody of a Child in Westmoreland County?

In general, a child must be living in Westmoreland County for at least six months in order for the Family Court to hear a custody case relating to that child. There are important exceptions – if the child's welfare is in jeopardy, for example, or if the child is under six months old. In most situations, custody cases are argued between the child's two parents or guardians. But any number of other scenarios is possible. One or both parents might be deceased or incarcerated, for example. In such cases, a grandparent, sibling, or other family member might file for custody of a child.

Don't assume the court is going to recognize every situation requiring immediate intervention. They may have the discretion to not hear a case or to delay a case by several months, if not longer. What may not feel like an emergency to the court may actually be, and this is why it is so important for you to actively advocate for your child by hiring the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team, who understands this urgency and will fight for and protect them.

How Are Child Custody Cases Initiated in Westmoreland County?

In most cases, the first step in a child custody case in Westmoreland County involves the initiation of a custody action. Even if both parties have reached an informal agreement about physical and legal custody, to make the agreement legally binding and enforceable as a Court Order, a Custody Complaint must be submitted and filed with the Westmoreland County Prothonotary's Office, located on the fifth floor of the Courthouse Annex.

Particularly if you and your child's other parent or guardian are at odds about what the custody arrangement should look like, you should obtain the services of the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team to submit a Custody Complaint, Custody Scheduling Order, and other necessary paperwork on your behalf with the Westmoreland County Custody Office and obtain a date for your initial Custody Conciliation Conference before a Custody/Hearing Officer.

Some custody situations are urgent, such as when the child's health, safety, or welfare is in immediate danger. Perhaps one parent has taken or threatened to take a child away from the other parent, possibly across state lines. In such situations, you need to hire the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team to file a "Petition for Emergency Relief" immediately. Call us at 888.535.3686 or use our contact link to set up a confidential consultation right away to discuss your urgent custody questions.

Other situations – requiring expediency but not emergency action – may warrant filing a "Petition for Expedited Relief." These cases involve issues that need to be decided quickly but don't pose an immediate threat to the child. A court may then consider the case on an accelerated timeline. In this case, as well, it is advisable that you retain the services of the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team.

What Happens at a Custody Conciliation Conference?

At your Custody Conciliation Conference in Westmoreland County, which is the first step after filing, a hearing officer appointed by the court will hear your case to determine if an agreement can be made without taking the case to the next level – a trial before a judge. You and the other party will be present for this conference, along with the LLF Family Law Team attorney representing.

If, at this conference, you reach a custody agreement, the hearing officer will draft the order, and it will be signed by a judge. If you do not reach an agreement, the hearing officer will initiate a sequence of events involving a pre-trial conference and/or a trial. Through this entire process, you would be wise to have your LLF Family Law Team attorney communicate with the Family Court on your behalf, submit the required paperwork, and represent you at these hearings.

Representation by an attorney is so important that Westmoreland County has issued this warning: "If you are not able to resolve your custody case at the Custody Conciliation Conference and a trial is scheduled, you may do a great disservice to yourself and your child if you do not consult with and hire a lawyer. If you have a trial before the Judge and do not have a lawyer representing you, you will be held to the same standards in presenting your case as a represented party."

What Happens if My Custody Case Goes to Trial?

At a trial, each party can provide witnesses and exhibits that support their argument for obtaining or retaining custody of their children. The judge's focus is on what will be in the children's best interests, which may mean arriving at a child custody order that neither you nor the other party is satisfied with. Again, you are strongly urged to retain the services of the LLF Family Law Team in your custody case, especially if you are going to trial.

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team has helped numerous clients with their child custody matters in Westmoreland County and across Pennsylvania. We understand what's at stake and are ready to help you protect your rights and your children's rights.

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

If you disagree with the order that is issued, your next step depends on whether your case was heard by a hearing officer or a judge. If you disagree with a hearing officer's decision, you have 20 days to notify the court of the reasons the order is problematic. A judge will then make a ruling.

If the order you disagree with was issued by a judge, you have two courses of action to consider: filing a motion for reconsideration with the judge or filing an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Keep in mind that time is of the essence; you must file within 30 days.

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 you are satisfied 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.

How Are Custody Orders Enforced in Westmoreland County?

The sad fact is that custody orders are violated all the time, and states and counties are overwhelmed with requests to enforce them. This only underscores the importance of having a strong legal team in your corner if the other party is not following the order, especially if this becomes habitual. If your child's other parent or guardian is not holding up their end of your legal custody order, we will file a Petition for Contempt along with a Notice and Order to Appear with the Westmoreland Family Court. We will not let your case fall through the cracks.

On the other hand, there are also times in which one party might violate an order unintentionally or in an isolated incident, and they need defending. We also represent individuals on the defense in such cases. If you are at risk of being found in contempt of court, do not risk fines or jail time. You need a reliable defense advocating for you and your children at your trial.

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team understands the requirements for contempt petitions in family court matters in Westmoreland County, and we are experienced in dealing with attempts by opposing parties to avoid being served. Our experienced attorneys can help you file – or defend against – a contempt petition brought in Westmoreland County Family Court.

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

Child custody orders are legally binding. In order to make any modifications, regardless of whether both parties are in agreement about the changes, you'll need to go through the Family Court. Failing to do so could mean you could be found in contempt of the court's custody order. Remember that the purpose of a custody order is to protect a child's best interests, not facilitate what might be the most convenient arrangement for one or both parents.

To modify an existing order, your LLF Family Law Team attorney will file a Petition for Modification on your behalf along with a Scheduling Order. You will have the opportunity, along with the other party, to describe to the judge why you (individually or jointly) wish to modify the order. Your request could be granted or denied as is or amended by the judge.

The experienced attorneys who make up the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team understand the standards that judges in Westmoreland 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 Westmoreland County

The LLF Law Firm Family Law Team has years of experience helping parents and guardians with child custody issues. We will work with you to gather the information you need to support you and fight for your rights while at the same time keeping in mind what the court is focusing on – your child's welfare and future.

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 Westmoreland County to help craft a custody agreement acceptable to both parties that will also be acceptable to the Family Court judge.

If you are facing a child custody issue in Westmoreland County, contact the LLF Law Firm Family Law Team today at 888.535.3686 or use our contact form to set up a confidential consultation. This is likely the most important legal matter you will ever encounter. Let us help you and your family through 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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