Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

The Child Custody Trial Process in Pennsylvania

Posted on

If you are facing a Pennsylvania divorce involving children or are facing a child custody case outside of marriage and divorce, a better understanding of the child custody trial process is important.

If you and your divorcing spouse have vastly different preferences regarding child custody and you’ve exhausted your options in terms of negotiations, your child custody case may proceed to court.

The child custody trial process is challenging, and because your parental rights hang in the balance, it’s important to have an experienced Pennsylvania child custody attorney in your corner. Contact Luschas, Naparsteck & Crane to request a family law case consultation.

Preparing for a Custody Trial

While your child custody case will be unique to you and your situation, the basic steps forward do not vary.

Filing the complaint

To begin, you will file your child custody complaint with the family court. To do so, you’ll need to gather the relevant documents, including all the following:

  • Any prior custody orders
  • The address of your children’s other parent

By filing this complaint, you instigate the process for your court date to be set. If your children’s other parent initiates the process, you will be informed of the established court date. If the situation is urgent, such as if your children are in danger, you can file an expedited petition that prompts the court to hold your hearing as quickly as possible.

Meeting with the domestic relations officer

The next step in the process is having a preliminary meeting with the domestic relations officer (DRO), which is sometimes called the conciliation conference or the custody masters hearing. At this early meeting, you, your children’s other parent, and your children must be present. It’s here that the DRO will get to know each of you a bit and get a feel for your case.

Part of the process may include the DRO speaking to your children privately. The DRO’s goal is to resolve the matter prior to trial, and if all parties are amenable, a resolution is a distinct possibility. The DRO will provide you with the opportunity to explore your best options and the possibility of avoiding a trial.

If you and your divorcing spouse can reach an agreement – either prior to the meeting or at the meeting – the DRO has the authority to approve it. If an agreement cannot be reached, however, the DRO will write a recommendation, which may become the final order if neither of you requests a pretrial conference in the required timeframe (20 days after the recommendation’s issuance).

It’s important to note that different counties in Pennsylvania can handle this step differently, which makes working closely with a dedicated child custody attorney who is well versed in the legal process in your location paramount.

Proceeding to trial

If your case does proceed to trial, it will happen in a courtroom in front of a judge who will carefully listen to all the testimony, will carefully review all the relevant evidence, and will ultimately make a determination that is in keeping with the best interests of the children involved. Often, the judge will take some time before rendering their decision and the child custody order in written documents.

Appealing the decision

If you believe the judge’s decision is not in keeping with your parental rights and the best interests of your children, you can appeal the decision – or request that it be reconsidered. The appeals process is exceptionally challenging, and having professional legal counsel on your side is well advised.

Parenting Seminars and Mediation Orientation

In some counties, the custody trial process requires parents to participate in parenting seminars or what is known as mediation orientation in the 30 days after filing the complaint. Parenting seminars are dedicated to helping parents find a path forward toward successful co-parenting and find ways to minimize the stress their children experience.

If you are required to take a parenting seminar, it’s important to recognize that failure to comply can have serious consequences that include a charge of contempt, a case dismissal, or even the loss of custodial rights.

You may also be required to attend a mediation orientation at which a mediator will help you explore how effective mediation might be for you in your unique situation – or if proceeding to court is the more realistic option. Cases that involve domestic violence of a protection from abuse order can bypass the mediation orientation requirement.

An Experienced Pennsylvania Child Custody Attorney Is on Your Side

If you are facing a child custody case – whether inside or outside divorce – the stakes are high, and having the legal guidance of one of the seasoned Pennsylvania child custody attorneys at Luschas, Naparsteck, & Crane, LLP, is in your best interest. Our trusted legal team takes your parental rights very seriously and is standing by to help. To learn more about what we can do for you, consider contacting us online or calling us at 570-799-8809 today.

Pennsylvania Custody Trial FAQs

How long does a custody hearing take?

A child custody hearing can be a lengthy process, and the amount of time required will vary depending upon the complexity of your case and the court’s docket. If you and your children’s other parent can resolve the matter between yourselves along the way, you can expedite the process considerably.

What happens in a child custody trial?

At your child custody trial, the judge will take all the evidence and testimony into careful consideration in the process of making a ruling that is in keeping with your children’s best interests.

In preparing for a custody trial, what should I do?

The best way to prepare for your child custody trial is to be well acquainted with the details of your case, to focus on your children’s best interests –including maximizing their time with both parents – to be open to reasonable compromise, and to work closely with a savvy child custody attorney.

Get in touch with us today to get started with your FREE case review. We’re only a call, click, or short drive away.