How Do I Obtain Primary Custody of My Child in Pennsylvania?

The process of obtaining primary custody of a child in Pennsylvania will vary depending on the county in which the case is brought. The first step in commencing custody proceedings in any county is to file a Complaint for Custody. Most counties require both parties attend an educational component on co-parenting before the custody process can proceed. Some counties require children of certain ages to attend, while other counties do not. So what if you live out-of-state or cannot attend a co-parenting class for some other reason? Depending on the reasoning, your attorney may be able to have the educational component bypassed. Alternatively, some judges will allow a party to complete a similar co-parenting course in their home county, and others may even allow for completion of an online course if good cause is shown. Generally, however, judges are hesitant to waive this requirement and will not allow a case to proceed until completed by both parties.

The second step varies slightly from county-to-county, but generally parties will proceed to a Mediation or Custody Conference before a trained mediator. The mediator will attempt to forge a custody agreement between the parties, including specificities of transportation, phone contact for the non-custodial parent and the like. Most counties permit parties to be represented by counsel at these proceedings, but some do not.

So what if you cannot come to an agreement during the mediation process? That will also depend upon the county in which the case is brought. For example, Allegheny County rules allow parties to praecipe for a Conciliation before a Domestic Relations Officer (DRO) following an unsuccessful mediation. If no agreement is reached at the DRO Conciliation, the parties may praecipe for a Judicial Conciliation in front of their assigned judge. The judge may enter a Custody Order at that time, or may schedule a second Judicial Conciliation or a pre-trial conference.

In some other counties, such as Beaver County & Butler County, the proceeding is held before a Custody Conference Officer who may enter a Recommended Custody Order of Court. This Order must be appealed within 20 days or it becomes legally binding. Should a party choose to appeal the Conference Officer's Recommendation, the case will proceed to a formal custody hearing before the judge.

All of our family law attorneys at Vari & Associates, P.C. have extensive experience with the custody process in Allegheny County, as well as surrounding counties including Beaver, Butler, Washington, Westmoreland, Lawrence, Fayette, Mercer, Jefferson, Elk, Clearfield and Berks. Contact us today to speak with a knowledgeable family law attorney who can guide you through the custody process in your county.

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