A source of contention and anxiety for separated parents is who gets custody of the children. When separated parents are able to work together regarding the custody of their children, the situation is less stressful and court involvement will be minimal, if at all. Issues arise when separated parents cannot work together regarding the custody of their children, which is when court action is needed to resolve the custody dispute. Each county has different procedures for how they deal with custody disputes. This article focuses on the custody process in Lebanon County.
In Lebanon County, a custody action begins when one parent files a Custody Complaint. A Custody Complaint will set forth background information about the children as well as each parent. Additionally, the Custody Complaint will set forth what the filing parent is seeking in terms of custody. A Criminal History Affidavit must be attached to the Custody Complaint when it is filed. After a Custody Complaint is filed, the court will appoint a Conciliator. A Conciliator is not a judge, but is a neutral attorney. In Lebanon County, there are three potential Conciliators and one will be appointed to the case. Once a Conciliator is appointed, he or she will schedule a Conciliation date. The Conciliation date is typically scheduled 30 to 45 days after the Custody Complaint is filed. The purpose of the Conciliation is to give the parents an opportunity to discuss their custody dispute in an effort to reach an amicable agreement regarding the custody of their children. Prior to the Conciliation, a Parenting Plan needs to be submitted by each parent. A Parenting Plan allows the Conciliator to understand what each parent hopes to achieve in terms of a custody arrangement.
At the Conciliation, the purpose of the Conciliator is to help facilitate communication between the parents in an effort to reach a custody agreement. The Conciliation lasts about one (1) hour. During the Conciliation, if an agreement is reached, the Conciliator will draft the terms of the agreement and send it to a judge to make the agreement a court order. If an agreement is not reached or one party decides to end the conciliation, a temporary custody order will be put into place and the matter will be referred to Mediation.
Mediation is the second step in Lebanon County’s custody process and occurs when an agreement is unable to be reached at the Conciliation. The Mediation date is typically scheduled 30 to 45 days after the Conciliation. Like Conciliation, which has a Conciliator, Mediation has a Mediator. The Mediator is a neutral attorney. In Lebanon County, the three Conciliators, discussed above, are also Mediators. However, the Conciliator cannot also be the Mediator. In other words, one of the two remaining attorneys will be the Mediator.
The Mediation is identical to the Conciliation. The goal is to give the parents an opportunity to discuss their custody dispute in an effort to reach an amicable agreement regarding the custody of their children. The Mediator’s purpose is to help facilitate communication between the parents in an effort to reach a custody agreement. Unlike the Conciliation, the Mediation lasts about two (2) hours. During the Mediation, if an agreement is reached, the Mediator will draft the terms of the agreement and send it to a judge to make the agreement a court order. If an agreement is not reached or one party decides to end the Mediation, the temporary custody order will stand and the matter will be referred to a judge.
When the matter is referred to a judge, he will schedule a Pre-Hearing Conference, which is the third step in the Lebanon County’s custody process. The Pre-Hearing Conference is typically scheduled 30 to 45 days after the Mediation and will be with the Judge. The purpose of the Pre- Hearing Conference is to give the Judge an understanding of the case and to schedule the matter for a hearing. At the Pre-Hearing Conference, a Pre-Hearing Conference Memorandum needs to be submitted. The Pre-Hearing Memorandum gives the Judge an understanding of the case, each parent’s request for custody, and any potential witnesses that will be called at the hearing. Depending on the court’s scheduling conflicts, the hearing may not take place until 3 to 5 months after the Pre-Hearing Conference.
At the hearing, which is final step in Lebanon County’s custody process, the Judge will hear testimony from each parent, the children depending on their age, and each parent’s witnesses. After hearing each individual’s testimony, the Judge will make a decision regarding the custody of the children. The Judge’s decision will become the custody schedule that must be followed by the parents. The Judge’s custody decision is based on 16 factors found at 23 PA. CONS. STAT. ANN. 5328. The Judge’s overall goal is to determine what is in the best interest of the child, not what each parent wants.
As indicated from this article, Lebanon County’s custody process is long and can be complex. Buzgon Davis Law Offices is experienced in custody cases and can help you with your custody issues. Do not hesitate to contact our office to help you with your legal needs.
This article was written by Associate Attorney, Joseph A. Crowe, Esquire.