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What Happens at a Montgomery County "Short List" Custody Hearing?

Posted by Joseph Lento | Nov 25, 2016 | 0 Comments

After filing for custody in Montgomery County, the parties (whether parents, grandparents, or third parties) will be required to attend Mediation Orientation and the "Our Children First Seminar" prior to the child custody Conciliation Conference, also known as the custody "master's hearing."  The purpose of prospective Mediation, the Our Children First Seminar, and the custody master's hearing is to address the custody issues in dispute in a constructive fashion with the hope that the case can settle by agreement between the parties.  As is the case with all Pennsylvania Family Courts, Montgomery County Family Court would prefer that the parties themselves, together with the assistance of their attorneys, discuss, negotiate, and agree to a custody arrangement.  This of course is not always possible or practical.  When custody cases do not settle at the Conciliation Conference stage in Montgomery County, the case will be scheduled for a "Short List" hearing. 

The custody judge who presides over the Short List hearing will, as appropriate, continue to encourage the parties to settle the case if possible.  When a custody case in Montgomery County does not settle at the Short List, a "Protracted Hearing" may be scheduled. 

The "Short List" Child Custody Hearing in Montgomery County

The initial hearing scheduled for a custody judge's "Short List" is targeted toward settlement, narrowing of the custody issues in dispute, and finalization of discovery matters as necessary. 

If the custody case is not resolved at the Short List, then the Montgomery County Family Court Administrator will schedule the matter for a Protracted Hearing.  The order in which the case is scheduled or listed does not necessarily determine the order in which the custody judge will hear the cases at the Short List.  Parties and parties' attorneys are expected to be prepared to proceed with their cases when called, and should also be prepared to wait their turn.  Parties and parties' attorney may in some instances utilize that waiting period (which can be all day) towards the resolution of their case.

What happens at the "Short List" hearing in Montgomery County?

The general Short List procedure in Montgomery County is set forth below.  Some Montgomery County Family Court judges have special procedures with regards to how they conduct their Short Lists.  A party and a party's attorney should be familiar with the rules for each custody judge before the Short List hearing.

  • There is a notice from the Montgomery County Family Court Administrator as to the date and time of the Short List hearing/conference.
  • The Short List is a formal proceeding, which means that there is a "black robe," the hearing will take place in the courtroom, and a court reporter formal day will be scheduled.
  • Parties who are not represented by an attorney, short Contempt of Custody cases, Exceptions cases, and any other cases that parties' attorneys may certify as being able to be concluded briefly are handled on a Short List date.
  • Agreements and Withdrawals are given preference for disposition on a Short List date.  Next, most custody judges will address the child custody cases in which the parties are represented by attorneys.  Attorneys on the remaining cases are brought into the custody judge's chambers where there is an attempt to settle the custody case.  After all cases involving attorneys are concluded, short cases in which the parties are not represented by attorney will be tried.
  • If settlement of the child custody case does not occur, either during or after the parties' attorneys in-chambers discussion, the parties' attorneys will return to the custody judge's courtroom, and will place, "on the record," all of the issues regarding discovery needed and a schedule for the same, as well as any other memorialization needed of the discussion that took place in chambers.  There representations are transcribed by a court reporter so that all parties involved in the custody case are aware of what will happen at the subsequent Protracted Hearing.
  • Parties must in general be present for the Short List.  Full trials usually do not take place unless the Short List "breaks down" and time allows for a trial to take place and is other appropriate at that time.  Montgomery County Family Court judges do attempt to hear all parties' cases in which the parties are not represented by attorneys, rather than scheduled such cases for a subsequent protracted hearing.

When will the "Short List" hearing be scheduled after the custody Conciliation Conference in Montgomery County?

The Short List hearing is generally scheduled approximately six (6) weeks after the custody Conciliation Conference/custody master's hearing.  Parties' attorneys should check with Montgomery County Family Court Administration to determine which custody judge the case is assigned.  Family Court Administration is inside in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas which is located at 2 E. Airy St., Norristown, PA 19401.  Family Court Administration's phone number is 610-278-3224.

Custody cases in Montgomery County are scheduled based on docket information.  It is important the the custody case's docket information is correct and updated via "Praecipe" as needed.

A Short List conference and/or hearing before the Montgomery County Family Court custody judge is scheduled for one-half hour to one hour and the parties (the "plaintiff" and "defendant;" also known as the "petitioner" and "respondent" respectively) must be present along with the parties' attorneys. 

It depends on the particular custody judge, but the judge may hold a pre-trial conference on the Short List date, and if so, the parties' attorneys must be prepared to address briefing schedules and other pre-trial matters.  If the matter involves a minor contempt of custody issue, parties and parties' attorneys should also be prepared to try to custody case at the time of the Short List.  If parties are not represented by attorneys, parties should also be prepared to try their custody cases at the time of the Short List.

Prior to the Short List proceedings, and prior to the first listing in particular, parties' attorneys should contact the assigned custody judge's chambers to determine the particular judge's practice regarding interviewing the child or children involved in the custody dispute.  In general, the child or children are not required at the Short List date.  This should not be assumed however.

What happens after the "Short List" hearing in Montgomery County?

If a child custody case does not settle at the Short List hearing, the case will be listed for trial, also known as a "Protracted Hearing," before the same judge.  Each custody judge's schedule varies, but parties and parties' attorneys can expect that trial will be scheduled as soon as 30 days after the Short List date.  The parties' attorney must notify the Montgomery County Family Court Administrator's Office and judge's chambers if the Protracted Hearing requires witnesses from out of town or other aspects which prevent trying the case on short notice.  When more time is needed before the Protracted Hearing can take place, or if other circumstances require as such, parties' attorneys may be able to secure a "date certain" for trial; as its name implies, a "date certain" Protracted Hearing date is a specific date (arranged in advance by and between the judge and the parties' attorneys and Montgomery County Family Court Administration).

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.  A Family Law attorney can help you achieve your goals, whether custody issues are resolved at the Short List hearing or at a Protracted Hearing.  Whether the petitioner or respondent 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 required, 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.

About the Author

Joseph Lento

"I pride myself on having heart and driving hard to get results!" Attorney Joseph D. Lento is a veteran of one of the nation's busiest family courts with nearly 20 years' experience passionately helping families. By day, he worked in the trenches of family court, and at night, he studied the law. He helped countless families while working at family court, and he went on to become an attorney, dedicating his law practice to continuing the work he started years earlier. Mr. Lento's experience both behind the scenes and on the front lines allows him to understand a client's family law matter from all angles, and allows him to find and employ the most effective strategies to get favorable outcomes for any client. Joseph D. Lento is licensed in Pennsylvania New Jersey, and New York, and is admitted pro hac vice as needed nationwide. In the courtroom and in life, attorney Joseph D. Lento stands up when the bell rings!

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