Before a child custody case in Montgomery County can proceed to trial, Montgomery County Family Court requires that parties attend a Mediation Orientation, the "Our Children First Seminar," and a Custody Master's hearing, also known as the Custody Conciliation Conference.
Many times the custody issues in dispute between the parties, whether the parents, grandparents, or other concerned parties in the child's life, can be resolved after these initial steps are taken. This is especially true once the custody case reaches the Custody Conciliation Conference. The Custody Master, the authority who presides over the Conciliation Conference, often has vast experience in how custody disputes should be resolved, and even will be resolved if the matter were to proceed to a custody trial before a Family Court judge sitting in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.
Because of the Custody Master's experience in addressing such matters, the Custody Master can, at times, suggest potential resolutions to the custody issues in dispute that the parties may be receptive to once the case reaches the Conciliation Conference. This can be the case even when an agreement previously did not seem possible; in the spirit of cooperation, and in order to put their differences behind them, which often will not only allow for peace of mind for the parties themselves, but especially the child or children, parties who were previously at odds may be able to have the custody case successfully resolve itself at the Conciliation Conference.
When an agreeable resolution does not present itself at the Custody Master's hearing, however, Montgomery County Family may require that the child or children undergo a "Child Interview."
The "Child Interview" in Montgomery County Custody Cases
If the custody case does not settle at the Conciliation Conference, depending on the Family Court judge assigned to the case, children who are six (6) years old and older may be interviewed by the Custody Master, also known as the Conciliator, at a later time. This "interview" gives a child a voice in the process and a chance to express himself or herself. The interview does not give the child a choice about the custody arrangement and the Conciliators make it clear that neither the child nor the Conciliator is a judge who can make a final decision about the issues involved in the case.
When an interview is scheduled, the parties will usually receive the "Notice" of the Child Interview within a few weeks of the Conciliation. The Conciliator will meet individually with each child and meet with the parents (or other parties involved in the case) and the parents' or parties' attorneys, if represented. If a parent is represented and the parent's attorney is not present, the party must waive the appearance of his/her counsel (attorney) in order to receive the feedback from the Custody Master.
Both parents must appear if they wish to hear the feedback from the child interview in Montgomery County. After the child interview, the Conciliator may again try to negotiate a settlement between the parties only if both parties are present and, if represented, the parties' attorneys are present (or the presence of counsel is waived). If, after the parents and the parents' attorney receive the feedback, the custody case does not settle at this point, the case is listed for a custody trial.
Can a parent ask for a "Custody Evaluation" in a Montgomery County Custody Case?
Either parent (or other involved party) can file a petition for a Custody Evaluation in Montgomery County. If a petition for a Custody Evaluation is filed, the matter is listed before a Family Court judge on the "short list." Pursuant to Montgomery County Local Rule 1915.8 (e), Montgomery County Family Court may assess and allocate the cost of the evaluation, report, and fee of the expert to appear in Court.
Montgomery County Custody Attorney | Norristown Custody Lawyer
The stakes can be high when Montgomery County Family Court decides the custody of a child or children. During the course of a custody dispute, parents may often believe that what they regard as "best" for their child to in fact be best. Parents involved in a custody case may also not be receptive to constructive suggestions, even from the a Custody Conciliator, regarding how the issues in dispute may best be resolved.
A Child Interview and/or a Custody Evaluation may be able to provide parents, whether receptive or not, with a better perspective as to what in fact may be in their child's "best interests." This is important because when a custody case proceeds to trial, a Family Court judge in Norristown, when deciding custody of a child, will decide based on the "best interests of the child" standard.
Ultimately, a Child Interview and/or a Custody Evaluation can often provide critical information to the parents and the Court. A Family Law attorney can help parents understand how the Child Interview can affect the custody case, and when necessary, can help parents petition the Court for a Custody Evaluation to be performed. A Family Law attorney can also help parents seek custody arrangements that are best for the parent and child, whether custody issues are resolved at the Custody Master's hearing or at trial.
Whether the plaintiff or defendant in a child custody case in Norristown, a Pennsylvania attorney experienced with Montgomery County Family Court practice and procedure can help you navigate the steps involved with a Child Interview and a Custody Evaluation, and can provide you with the advice and advocacy needed to get your position heard and recognized. Contact attorney Joseph D. Lento today to learn how he can help.