Custody procedures may differ from county to county within Pennsylvania. Allegheny County, Pennsylvania has a very specific custody program designed to have custody cases settled outside of the courtroom. As determining custody arrangements between parents can often be one of the most highly contested issues in any PA family law matter, this program, called "Generations" was designed to create a system whereby custody disputes can stay out of the courtroom. It is important to note that parties may be exempt from attending any part of the Generations program when domestic violence is alleged.
Adult parties involved in a custody dispute as well children between the ages of 6 and 15 are required to attend the Generations program in Allegheny County as part of their custody case. This program in involves an adult educational seminar (with an accompanying interactive children's group program for children between 6 and 15) which must be attended first. The parties are then required to attend a Generations mediation session at the Child Custody Department in Allegheny County. At this mediation session, only the parties and the mediator are present and there are no attorneys for either side, children, or other third parties present during this mediation session. If the parties reach an agreement at mediation, they enter into what is called a "Memorandum of Understanding" which can then sometimes be turned into an enforceable court order.
If the parties do not agree at the Generations mediation session, they then attend a Generations conciliation. However, if one party initially filed a Petition to Enforce Custody - the parties would go directly to a custody hearing before the Hearing Officer and not to a conciliation with a child custody officer. The parties are required to attend the Generations conciliation whether or not they have an attorney. If the party has an attorney, then both the parent/party and his/her attorney will attend the Generations conciliation. If the parties cannot reach an agreement at the conciliation, they will be scheduled for a hearing before the Custody Hearing Officer.
Additionally, if the parties do not reach an agreement at the conciliation, and the action originally filed was for primary or shared custody, they may be referred to the child custody officer for a psychological evaluation and only if specifically requested, a home study. After the evaluations are complete, the parties can praecipe for a judicial conciliation (meaning a conciliation in front of the judge who is handling his/her case). If the case is not referred for psychological evaluations, a judicial conciliation may be scheduled to address whether or not to schedule evaluations or to proceed to trial without them.
The last and final step in the custody process is to litigate the issues at a custody trial. This happens only after a Partial Custody Hearing or a judicial conciliation. Even after a judicial conciliation where the parties cannot agree, an Allegheny County Family Division judge can decide to schedule the case before a Custody Hearing Officer to avoid a custody trial.
Contact our Allegheny County custody lawyers today to discuss your Allegheny County family law case.