If you have a family law case pending in Berks County, you will probably appear before the Court of Common Pleas, Family Court at the Berks County Courthouse. The family court handles a wide range of matters in Berks County, including:
- Child custody matters,
- Child and spousal support,
- Division of marital property,
- Temporary and permanent alimony, and
- Protections from abuse.
The Domestic Relations Section is also part of the family court and mainly works with families to establish and collect support for children and spouses.
If the parties to a child custody dispute can't reach a mutual agreement on custody and visitation, the Berks County family court can determine custody. The court's main consideration will be "the best interests of the child" to determine custody. The court will consider many factors, including:
- Any abuse or history of abuse committed by a parent or a member of the parent's household,
- The parental duties each parent typically performs for the child,
- Which parent is more likely to continue to encourage the child's relationship with the other parent and allow the child to have frequent and ongoing contact with the other parent,
- Any attempts by one parent to turn the child against the other parent,
- Which parent will provide the most continuity and stability in the child's education, extracurricular activities, and family life,
- The child's siblings and their relationship with their siblings,
- Which parent can provide the healthiest, most loving, nurturing, and stable home for the child,
- The distance between the homes of the two parents,
- Which parent is best able to tend to the child's daily physical, emotional, developmental, and educational needs,
- How willing each parent is to settle conflicts,
- Each parent's mental and physical health,
- Any history of alcohol or drug abuse by a parent,
- The role of extended family in the child's life,
- The ability of each parent to make appropriate childcare arrangements, and
- Any other relevant factors.
Depending on the child's age, intelligence, and maturity, the court may consider their preferences.
In Pennsylvania, grandparents may also have visitation rights under the Grandparents Visitation Act. If it's in the best interests of a child to not be in the custody of either parent and it's in their best interest to be in the custody of a grandparent, the court can award physical and legal custody to a grandparent. These visitation and custody rights apply to grandparents who:
- For 12 months or more assumed the responsibilities of a child's parent,
- Started a relationship with their grandchild with the consent of a parent or by court order, and
- Have a genuine care and concern for the child.
If grandparents had a child live with them for 12 months or more and a parent removes the child from their home, the grandparents can petition the Berks County Family Court for partial custody or visitation. The court can grant this as long as it doesn't interfere with the parents' relationship with the child.
Protection from Abuse (PFA)
A protection from abuse (PFA) is a civil order of the court available for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. The PFA prohibits the offender from harassing, stalking, abusing, threatening, or attempting to use physical force that would reasonably cause bodily injury to the victim. A PFA is available in Pennsylvania for people who have a certain relationship with domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking offenders. These include:
- A spouse or former spouse of an offender,
- A parent of a child of the offender,
- A current or former intimate sexual partner of the offender,
- A child of the victim,
- A child of the offender,
- A family member related to the offender by blood or marriage,
- A biological sibling of the offender, or
- A current or former partner who lived with the offender as a spouse.
A temporary PFA is usually good for seven to ten days or until the final PFA court hearing. The final PFA can stay in effect for up to three years. While there is no cost to you to apply for a PFA, the court may assess costs to the defendant at the final PFA hearing.
Procedures for obtaining a PFA in Pennsylvania vary by county. In Berks County, you can apply for a PFA at the Berks County Courthouse in the PFA Office from 8 am to 2 pm. PFA staff can also help you apply for an emergency PFA at the local Magisterial District Court Judge or the Reading Central Court on the courthouse's first floor after 6 pm on weekdays or weekends, or holidays. For emergency PFAs, the Berks County Magisterial District Courts are also open on weekends, nights, and holidays. If you wish to withdraw a PFA, you can do so with a motion to the court. The judge will then decide to grant or deny your request.
If the defendant violates your PFA, you should call 911. The police have the authority to arrest the defendant if they believe they violated a PFA. If the police don't arrest the defendant, you can also make a complaint in the District Attorney's office for indirect criminal contempt. If a court finds the defendant in contempt, the judge can sentence the defendant to up to six months in jail, probation and order the defendant to pay a $1,000 fine.
How an Experienced Family Law Attorney Can Help
An experienced family law attorney can help guide you through one of the most difficult times in your life, offering advice and working to protect your interests. Whether you're going through a divorce and custody dispute, seeking to adjust custody and visitation arrangement, or need to adjust spousal or child support, we can help. If you need a protection from abuse order, a skilled family law attorney can also help make the painful process a little easier.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can work quickly and aggressively to protect your rights in court. Call 888.535.3686 today to schedule a consultation. Attorney Lento takes pride in helping his clients obtain the best possible outcome in court. Let him help you as well.