When it comes to filing a child custody action, often the last thing someone thinks about is where to file. Many people assume that if they are living in a state or county that they can petition for custody of a child there. Others assume that if the child is currently physically in a location that this is the right place to file. However, in Pennsylvania (and many other states), the issue of where and when to file for custody is often more complicated, and failure to consider the factors related to venue can lead to a prolonged and complicated case.
Under Pennsylvania law, An action may be brought in any county: which is the home county of the child at the time of commencement of the proceeding, or which had been the child's home county within six months before commencement of the proceeding and the child is absent from the county but a parent or person acting as parent continues to live in the county.
Although there is usually only one appropriate venue for a custody case, in some of the more complicated cases, there may be two or more courts competing for authority to make the decision. Usually, judges will favor the child's "home county" (or state) in which they have lived for at least six months unless there are other factors that make another county a better choice. These factors included a consideration of where the child or the parents have a significant connection other than mere physical presence and there is available within the county substantial evidence concerning the child's protection, training and personal relationships,
Rarely, a court will assume jurisdiction over a custody case "when the child is present in the county and has been abandoned or it is necessary in an emergency to protect the child because the child or a sibling or parent of the child is subjected to or threatened with mistreatment or abuse." The court will typically on assume authority in this manner in the most extreme circumstances when the child's life and well-being are at stake. This type of jurisdiction, often called "emergency jurisdiction" is usually only invoked by the court when there is no other court available or when an immediate decision needs to be made before the case is turned over to a court with a stronger jurisdictional tie.
If you are considering starting a custody action and want more information regarding whether you can file in Pennsylvania or Allegheny County, contact our Pittsburgh office today!