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Timeframes for Custody Matters- Generally

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Custody proceedings are governed by the PA Rules of Civil Procedure and the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act.

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By Attorney Nichole A. Collins, Custody Lawyer, Harrisburg, PA

I have often been questioned by clients about the process through which custody, partial custody or visitation is obtained.  Further, what will be the timeframe involved?  How quickly will they be served with a complaint?  When will we get to court?

A Custody Complaint gets filed with the Court of appropriate jurisdiction

There are many factors in determining which court of common pleas has appropriate venue under the rules.  Venue is not the subject of this article, however.  A complaint will be drafted after your initial meeting with counsel.  A verification must be signed that attests to the fact that all statements contained within the complaint are true and correct.  Once the complaint has been filed with the court, the court will schedule a conciliation conference.  The opposing party will need to be served via certified mail with the complaint and notice of conference.

  • The Rule provides for "Prompt Disposition of Custody Cases"- Depending upon the procedure in the judicial district, the parties' initial in-person contact with the court  shall be scheduled to occur not later than 45 days from the filing of a complaint or petition.

A custody conference or "concilation hearing" will occur usually within a month from the date the complaint is filed.  If the parties cannot arrive at a resolution, the matter is then to be scheduled for a custody trial.  A trial is really just a hearing before the court where the parties have the opportunity to present witnesses.

Custody Trials

The rules provide as follows: "Depending upon the procedure in the judicial district, within 180 days of the filing of the complaint either the court shall automatically enter an order scheduling a trial before a judge or a party shall file a praecipe, motion or request for trial, except as otherwise provided in this subdivision."

Trial. Trials before a judge shall commence within 90 days of the date the scheduling order is entered. Trials and hearings shall be scheduled to be heard on consecutive days whenever possible but, if not on consecutive days, then the trial or hearing shall be concluded not later than 45 days from commencement.

Prompt Decisions. The judge's decision shall be entered and filed within 15 days of the date upon which the trial is concluded unless, within that time, the court extends the date for such decision by order entered of record showing good cause for the extension. In no event shall an extension delay the entry of the court's decision more than 45 days after the conclusion of trial.

The bottom line

If your matter does not involve a trial and may be resolved at a conference, the timeframe is dramatically decreased.  It may only take one to two months from the filing of the complaint to arrive at a final order.  If, however, a trial is required (cannot be resolved at a conference), the timeframe could be in excess of 6 months.  Further, experts, such as a psychologist, may need to conduct a custody evaluation, which increases the timeframe.

If you have specific questions or concerns about a custody matter or just questions in general, you may contact the firm of Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

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