In Pennsylvania, filing a Petition for Custody begins the Custody process.  Once this Petition is filed, the best possible outcome would be for the parents to create a Custody Agreement without input from the Court, this is called a Stipulation.  This Stipulation could be simply signed by the Judge and made an official Custody Order.  Unfortunately, by the time it is necessary to file a Petition, it is often the case that the parents are either no longer speaking to one another or refusing to work together.  Often, these cases do not require a full Custody Trial to reach resolution.  Realizing this, the Courts have created a multi-step process in an attempt to reach resolution without Court interference.

After the filing of the Petition for Custody, many counties require that both parents attend an Orientation session.  This Orientation session is designed to explain the Custody process and the importance of putting the needs of the child first.  The completion of this program is often mandatory before the next stage of the Custody process begins.

Upon completion of the Orientation, both parties will attend a Conciliation.  This Conciliation should be scheduled no more than forty-five days after the Petition is filed.  A Conciliator, also known as a Mediator depending on the County, leads this Conciliation.  These Conciliators are usually local Family Law attorneys that utilize their years of practice to work with parents in finding solutions towards making an Agreement.  Should the parents come to an Agreement at this level, the Conciliator will draft a proposed Custody Order and submit to the Court.  The Court will then review the proposal, sign it, and thus, create a finalized Custody Order.

Every county in Pennsylvania differs in their approach as to what occurs if the parents are unable to come to an agreement.  In some counties, if the parents do not come to an agreement with the Conciliator, the matter is simply scheduled for a Custody Trial before a Judge.  In other counties, the matter moves to a Custody Hearing Master.  The Hearing Master is responsible for full Evidentiary Hearings following all of the Rules of Evidence.  At the end of this hearing, the Master will make a Recommendation.  If either parent is dissatisfied with the outcome of the ruling, they may file Exceptions to the Recommendation with the Court.  These Exceptions will be dealt with in a Custody Trial before a Judge.

The Banks Law Group handles hundreds of cases in over 30 different counties in Pennsylvania.  Each of these counties has their own way of dealing with Custody cases, however, the structural bases are similar. No matter which approach your county utilizes, it is important to remember that these hearings can have an effect on both you and your children’s lives for years.  Should you find yourself in any of these scenarios, it is imperative to consult with The Banks Law Group before attending any Custody Hearings or Conciliations.