If you have a matter pending in family court in Lehigh County, you'll probably appear before the court at the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas in the Lehigh County Courthouse in Allentown. The Lehigh Family Court is a division of the Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas.
Services Offered in Lehigh County Family Court
The family court division handles legal actions for the end of family relationships, as well as:
- Child custody,
- Child visitation,
- Child and spousal support,
- Temporary and final alimony or support,
- Dividing marital property,
- Divorce, and
- Protections from Abuse (PFA) orders.
You can find court services for child custody, divorce, and Protections from Abuse for domestic violence in Room 423 of the courthouse at:
455 West Hamilton Street
Allentown, PA 18101
While the Family Court Office does have self-help forms for divorce, they recommend these forms only for people with no property, assets, or debts. If you have any of these assets or liabilities or need assistance with child custody, visitation, or support, you should contact an experienced Lehigh County family law attorney.
Child Custody Matters in Lehigh County
A court can decide child custody, visitation, and support matters in Pennsylvania if the parties can't agree. In determining child custody, the judge will look at “the best interests of the child.” In determining the best interests of the child, the judge will consider many factors, including:
- Whether either parent or a member of the parent's household has a history of abuse, particularly against a child or spouse,
- Which parental duties each parent typically performs for the child,
- Whether one parent is more likely to encourage the child's continuing relationship with the other parent. Will one parent be more likely to allow the child to have frequent and ongoing contact with the other parent?
- Any attempts by one parent to alienate the child from the other parent or to turn the child against the other parent,
- Whether one parent will provide more continuity and stability in the child's family life, education, and extracurricular activities,
- The role of extended family in the child's life,
- Any current or past alcohol or drug abuse by a parent,
- The relationship the child has with their siblings,
- Whether one parent can provide a healthier, more loving, nurturing, and stable home for the child,
- How far apart the two parents' homes are,
- Whether one parent is better able to tend to the child's daily
- The physical and mental health of each parent,
- Whether each parent can make arrangements for suitable childcare, and
- Any other relevant factors.
The court may also consider the child's wishes based on the child's age, maturity, and intelligence.
In some situations, grandparents can have court-ordered custody or visitation rights in Pennsylvania under the Grandparents Visitation Act. If a court determines that both parents are unfit and it's in the child's best interest to be in a grandparent's custody, a court can award physical and legal custody to a grandparent. These rights can apply to grandparents who:
- Assumed the responsibilities and roles of a parent for 12 months or more,
- Have “a genuine care and concern” for the child, and
- Started a relationship with the child by the consent of a parent or by court order.
If a child lives with their grandparents for 12 months or more, and then a parent removed them from the grandparents' home, the grandparents can petition the Lehigh County Family Court for visitation or even partial custody. The court can grant the grandparents partial custody or visitation as long as it doesn't interfere with the parent and child's relationship.
Protection from Abuse Orders in Lehigh County
A protection from abuse (PFA) order is a civil court order available for victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence, stalking, and sexual assault, if they also had a domestic relationship with the offender. These relationships include:
- A spouse, former spouse, intimate sexual partner, or former intimate sexual partner of an offender, including same-sex couples
- Someone who lives with or currently lived with the offender
- A child of the victim or a child of the offender
- A family member related to the offender by blood relationship or marriage
- A biological sibling of the offender
A PFA prohibits an offender from harassing, stalking, abusing, threatening, or attempting to use physical force that would reasonably cause bodily injury to the victim. While a temporary PFA is usually only good until the final PFA hearing, about seven to ten days, a final PFA can stay in effect for up to three years. There is no cost for the PFA for the plaintiff, but the court may assess costs to the defendant at the final PFA hearing.
Every county in Pennsylvania has different procedures for obtaining a PFA. In Lehigh County, you should go to the Protection from Abuse Office at the Lehigh County Courthouse between 8 am and 2 pm, Monday through Friday. Be sure to bring a photo ID with you and be prepared to spend several hours for the application process to obtain a temporary PFA.
After 2 pm, you may be able to obtain a temporary PFA through your Magisterial District Court. On weekends, holidays, or at night, your local police department can connect you to a Magisterial District Court judge for an emergency PFA. If you have an emergency PFA, it will expire on the next business day, and you must obtain a temporary PFA through the court.
Once you have a temporary PFA in place, the court will hold the final PFA hearing within ten days. Both parties appear at the final hearing and may present evidence and witnesses to the court for consideration. Both parties may be represented by attorneys in court. If the judge grants the final PFA, it can remain in place for up to three years or until one of the parties requests a modification or removal of the PFA by motion to the court.
How an Experienced Family Law Attorney Can Help
Family law matters can be stressful and complicated. An experienced family law attorney can give you advice and guidance during one of the most difficult times of your life. Whether you need a protection from abuse order, are going through a heated custody dispute, or need help negotiating a divorce settlement and the separation of your marital property, a skilled family law attorney can make everything easier.
Attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm can work quickly and efficiently to protect your rights in family court. Call 888.535.3686 today to schedule a consultation. Attorney Lento works hard to protect the rights of his clients. He can help you, too.