For many people, child custody proceedings are their first real glimpse of the courtroom experience. It won't take long to realize that televised legal dramas that attempt to depict what custody cases are like are over-exaggerated and oversimplified versions of what actually goes on. In reality, the custody court process is complex. To prove that you're suitable as a guardian, it'll take more than an emotional statement about how much you love your child. You'll need an effective presentation of your case and arguments.
Some people attempt to brave custody proceedings alone and fight without legal representation. But if you want favorable results, this isn't the best approach to a custody case. Since child custody cases are intricate and unpredictable, one seemingly small misstep can set you back a great deal. For some, a mistake has unfortunately led to them losing their rights as a parent. Don't let this happen to you. Contact experienced attorney Joseph D. Lento today.
If you have any more questions about how you can put your child custody case behind you, read on. We'll explore what the child custody trial process entails in Pennsylvania.
Filing a Complaint
Child custody cases begin with filing a complaint with the county courthouse or family court. Call the courthouse or check its website for the location.
Each county sets its own fees for filing, check with your county court to learn more. If you can't afford to pay the filing fee, you can ask your local court for an “in forma pauperis” (IFP) petition, which could cover the expense. If you are receiving government assistance, bring your welfare or SSI photo ID or any other form of proof that you receive these benefits.
When you go to file, you should bring any documents that would be relevant to your case, such as previous custody orders, PFA orders, the other parent's address, and all parties social security numbers. In the majority of Pennsylvania counties, you must complete your own petition and take it to the court.
What happens on the day you file depends on the county. In some counties, you will receive information regarding your court date almost immediately after filing, while in other counties, you will be told to expect a letter via mail from the court with your court date.
If you're in an urgent situation, Pennsylvania law allows complainants to file an expedited petition. This petition coaxes the court to schedule your hearing as soon as possible.
Meeting with the DRO
Prior to a trial, and depending on the county in which the custody case is taking place, you'll be scheduled to meet with a Domestic Relations Officer (DRO) who will hear your case. At this preliminary meeting, all parties, including children must be present. The purpose of this meeting is for the DRO to get acquainted with you and get familiar with your case to see if all parties will be able to agree on matters and avoid a trial. If all parties can come to an agreement, a trial will not ensue.
It should be noted that different Pennsylvania counties handle this initial stage in custody proceedings differently. For example, unless a petition for emergency custody is filed (when the circumstances of the case require), in Philadelphia, the initial stage in a custody case is scheduled to be presided over by a custody "master" who has similar powers to a judge but not identical. The fact that a custody master initially presides over a case in Philadelphia and also Bucks County, for example, can impact what can take place at such proceedings when there is an existing custody order as opposed to when custody is first filed for by the applicable parent or other party. In Montgomery County, for example, mediation often takes place before the initial custody proceeding which is referred to as the "custody conciliation conference".
Knowing the specific procedures and expectations of the applicable county is therefore critical to effectively navigating the custody court process.
The trial will take place before a judge. He or she will hear testimony and review evidence from the parties to ultimately decide on an accommodation that reflects the best interest of the child. The court is required to consider all relevant factors. The law lists several for reference.
If you disagree with a judge's order, you can file an appeal or a request for reconsideration. Appeals are complicated. An attorney can help you maximize your chances of the request being heard and honored.
Pennsylvania Family Law Attorney
With all the things to consider in a child custody case, predicting an outcome in a hearing is pretty difficult. This is why it's important you retain a qualified family law attorney who has extensive knowledge of the state's process and has helped families get an arrangement that reflects the best interest of their child. To ensure your parental rights are protected, and your contributions are considered, contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686.