When filing a complaint for custody, many people assume they will go straight to a Judge and receive a custody order. In Allegheny County this is not the case. When a complaint for custody is filed and the other party or parties are served, a multi-step process called Generations is initiated.
First, all parties are scheduled for an educational seminar. This seminar is a one time, approximately three hour class that educates parents on how to be successful co-parents and how to deal with their children effectively while they are adapting to their new co-parented lifestyle. Children, ages six to fifteen, are also required to attend their own, child only, seminar.
The next step in the process is mediation. The mediation is between only the named parties to the custody complaint. Therefore, neither attorneys nor children are allowed to participate. The mediation takes place in the Child Custody Department in the Family Courthouse. The mediation serves as a neutral venue for parents to work towards determining a workable custody schedule for their children. The advantage of a successful mediation is the ability to come to an agreement and get a custody order without ever entering a courtroom. Mediation also allows the parties to determine what is best for them, whereas a hearing gives discretion to a judge.
If the parties cannot come to an agreement in mediation, the next step in the process is conciliation. Here, overseen by a Judge or a Hearing Officer, the parties work to come to an agreement in the form of a consent order. The major difference between mediation and conciliation is attorneys may be present at conciliation and they are able to present evidence to support a party's argument.
If the parties still cannot come to an agreement, the final step is either a Partial Custody Hearing or Judicial Conciliation with possible psychological evaluations followed by a Custody Trial. As this is the last step in the process, the end of either of these will result in a custody order that is determined by a hearing officer or Judge. Parties should be prepared that this process requires a significant amount of time.