Shaffer & Engle Personal attention. Compassionate response. Fast Results.
Shaffer & Engle Personal attention. Compassionate response. Fast Results.

Possible Changes Coming to the Way the Courts Deal with Family Law Cases

Partner With A Trusted Legal Ally, Call:
717-827-4074

A new Bill introduced by the PA House on March 27, 2012 would substantially alter the manner in which courts are to deal with family law cases, such as divorce, custody, support, paternity and abuse.

By Attorney Nichole A. Collins, Family Law Attorney, Harrisburg, PA

Some of the major changes of 2011 Pennsylvania House Bill No. 2282, to be known as the Title 42, Chapter 72 the Family Law and Justice Act would provide for more detailed accounting and management of family law cases by the courts.  A case management team would be assigned by a designated 'family law judge' to oversee the custody, divorce, paternity matters, support and division of marital assets.  It would provide for 'fast tracking' of certain cases when deemed appropriate.  The focus of the Bill is to deal with cases more efficiently, effectively and in a way that addresses each family's needs individually with empathy and compassion.

Here's the substance of that Bill:

CHAPTER 72 FAMILY LAW AND JUSTICE

§ 7201. Short title of chapter. This chapter shall be known and may be cited as the Family Law and Justice Act.

§ 7202. Declaration of policy.

The General Assembly finds and declares as follows:

(1) The current procedure in this Commonwealth for litigating family law cases involving divorce, annulment, child support, spousal support, custody, alimony and equitable division of marital property has created undue hardship for children and families.

(2) Pennsylvania's current procedure is largely based on the traditional adversarial process; is multilayered, segmented, overly lengthy and costly; and only serves to deepen the wounds caused by family breakup.

(3) Family breakup invariably hurts every member but is especially harmful to children. Divorce and family separation have been shown to contribute to increased levels of teen violence, suicide and depression and to impede learning and emotional growth.

(4) The best interests of children and the safety of all family members must be a matter of paramount concern in the court processes which resolve family conflict.

§ 7203. Legislative intent. It is declared to be the intention of the General Assembly to create a procedure for family litigation which complies with all of the following:

(1) Protects and assures the present and long-term safety of children and victims of domestic violence.

(2) Eliminates barriers to meaningful dispute resolution by enabling family members to deal with the same court officers and staff each time they need the court's dispute resolution services and by reducing duplication and fragmentation of court events.

(3) Is accountable to all family members in need of protection and promotes public trust and confidence.

(4) Treats each member of a family with courtesy, civility and respect.

(5) Speedily, efficiently, fairly and cost-effectively decides family litigation cases, with the goal of resolving all aspects of a case within six months of filing.

(6) Recognizes the realities of family breakup, including the emotional trauma experienced by the parties and their children.

(7) Assures adequate access to all those who need the court's help, including parties unable to afford lawyers.

(8) Sufficiently trains judges and family law masters in applicable substantive law and subjects needed to make the best decisions for children and families, such as mental and behavioral health, mediation, child abuse and neglect, child sexual abuse and exploitation, domestic violence and child development.

§ 7204. Definitions. The following words and phrases when used in this chapter shall have the meanings given to them in this section unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:

  • "Account." The Family Justice Account established in section 7226 (relating to Family Justice Account).
  • "Case management team." The employees within the domestic relations section of a court of common pleas who are supervised by a judge in accordance with section 7220 (relating to case management teams) and whose responsibility is to manage and process family actions in a manner consistent with this chapter.
  • "Case management team leader." The designated manager of a case management team.
  • "Court." A judge of a court of common pleas or a family law master appointed by a judge to hear family litigation.
  • "Differentiated case management system." The multitrack system for the management and timely disposition of family litigation established in section 7214 (relating to case management conference).
  • "Family action." An action filed with the court of common pleas which is comprised of one or more matters of family litigation.
  • "Family information statement." A printed form which includes information about family history, employment, assets, income, debts and liabilities, and insurance provided to the court by each party required under section 7212(a) (relating to commencement of family action).
  • "Family law adjudication system." The system within the court of common pleas established to receive family actions, to hear and decide family litigation and to help families negotiate the court processes involved with family litigation. The term includes court resources dedicated to providing information to families regarding substantive and procedural aspects of family litigation, court resources dedicated to helping self litigants and court resources necessary to effectuate judicial education and all other requirements of this chapter.
  • "Family law master." An attorney appointed by a judge to hear family litigation. The term does not include a mediator.
  • "Family litigation." All matters involving divorce, annulment, custody, except relocation in accordance with 23 Pa.C.S. § 5337 (relating to relocation), child support, spousal support, alimony, alimony pendente lite, counsel fees and costs, equitable division of marital property and related matters. The term does not include matters regarding:

(1) adoption, delinquency, dependency or protection from abuse;

(2) establishment of paternity or child support enforcement or collection under 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 43 (relating to support matters generally);

(3) determination of support or paternity under 23 Pa.C.S. § 4342 (relating to expedited procedure);

(4) 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 54 (relating to uniform child custody jurisdiction and enforcement);

(5) 23 Pa.C.S. Pt. VIII (relating to uniform interstate family support);

(6) 23 Pa.C.S. Pt. VIII-A (relating to intrastate family support); or

(7) relocation under 23 Pa.C.S. § 5337. "Family resource center." The facility required under section 7227 (relating to family resource center). "Judge." A judge of a court of common pleas. The term includes a senior judge.

§ 7205. Scope of chapter.

(a) General rule.--Except as set forth in subsection (b), this chapter applies exclusively to and governs the procedure for hearing and deciding all matters involving family litigation.

(b) Limitation.--This chapter does not apply to matters excluded from the definition of "family litigation" in section 7204 (relating to definitions). This chapter is not intended to affect the child support collection or enforcement operations of the Department of Public Welfare.

(c) Purpose.--This chapter shall be construed liberally to promote justice, to ensure the safety of children and to provide families with a fair, timely and cost-efficient method for hearing and deciding family litigation.

§ 7206. Judicial districts.

(a) Requirements.--Each judicial district in this Commonwealth shall do all of the following:

(1) provide courtrooms, chambers, facilities, equipment, legal and educational materials and supplies in accordance with this chapter;

(2) provide employees for the operation, management and recordkeeping necessary to implement the family law adjudication system in accordance with this chapter; and

(3) establish the procedure for receiving family actions and for hearing and deciding family litigation in accordance with this chapter.

(b) Penalty.--If a judicial district fails to comply with this chapter, the county or counties which comprise that judicial district shall be responsible for all administrative costs related to the receiving of family actions and for the hearing and deciding of family litigation until the judicial district complies with this chapter.

§ 7207. Annual report.

(a) Preparation.--Each judicial district shall prepare and submit to the Court Administrator of Pennsylvania information and statistics for the previous fiscal year concerning the operation of the family law adjudication system. This section includes:

(1) The number of family actions filed and disposed of.

(2) The types of family actions filed and disposed of.

(3) The length of time necessary to dispose of family actions.

(4) The number of family actions pending for more than six months from the date of commencement and the reason for the pendency.

(5) The length of time necessary to hear and decide family litigation.

(6) The number of family actions pending in the family law adjudication system.

(7) The number of family actions not tried continuously and the reason for this treatment.

(8) The compliance by judges and family law masters with judicial educational requirements.

(9) The number of self-litigants and the services provided to self-litigants.

(b) Submission.--The Court Administrator of Pennsylvania shall compile and prepare this information and submit it in an annual report to the Governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, the President of the Senate, the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the members of the Judiciary Committee of the Senate and the Judiciary Committee of the House of Representatives.

(c) Public access.--The Court Administrator of Pennsylvania shall make the annual report available to the public. This subsection includes access over the Internet or other electronic format readily accessible to the public.

§ 7208. Weighted caseload study. Within two years of the effective date of this section, the Court Administrator of Pennsylvania shall undertake a weighted caseload study to determine efficient allocation of judicial and case management team resources.

§ 7209. Intake and screening. Each judicial district shall establish a family action intake service within the domestic relations section of the court of common pleas. The service shall have among its responsibilities the screening of family actions for allegations or evidence of substance abuse, child abuse, child neglect, child sexual abuse and exploitation and domestic violence. This service shall assist litigants by making referrals and providing information regarding community-based and government services designed to provide treatment for substance abuse and to help victims of child abuse and neglect, child sexual abuse and exploitation and domestic violence. Where appropriate, the service shall notify government agencies of the need for intervention.

§ 7210. Hearings may be private. In a family action, upon demand of a party, the court shall direct that:

(1) the trial or proceedings regarding family litigation be private; and

(2) all persons except officers of the court, parties, witnesses and counsel be excluded from the place where the matter is being heard.

§ 7211. Testimony of minor child. Except upon prior approval of the judge on a case-by-case basis, testimony of a minor child as to the merits of a party's position regarding any part of a family action shall not be permitted; and no minor child shall be subpoenaed to appear at a hearing.

§ 7212. Commencement of family action.

(a) Family information statement.--

(1) At the time of filing a complaint or cross-complaint regarding family litigation, each party shall complete and file a family information statement on a form prescribed by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. The family information statement shall provide information including:

(i) Name, address and telephone number of the party's employer.

(ii) Residential and mailing addresses of the party and the party's children.

(iii) Party's Social Security number.

(iv) Party's driver's license number.

(v) Itemization and identification of party's assets, whether held jointly or individually.

(vi) Party's income, debts and liabilities.

(vii) Party's medical, homeowners, life and automobile insurance coverage.

(viii) Family history. This subparagraph includes all of the following:

(A) Physical, emotional or sexual abuse of a family member.

(B) Physical, emotional or educational neglect of a family member.

(C) Alcohol or drug abuse on the part of a family member.

(D) Contact with the juvenile justice system by a minor in the family.

(2) Information required by the family information statement shall, to the extent known to the party, be fully completed and be current to within 60 days. Parties have a continuing duty to inform the court of any changes in the information required in the family information statement and to file a statement with the most current information available at the time of filing a petition to modify a support order. The statement shall provide that furnishing information which the party does not believe to be true shall subject the party to possible prosecution for a violation of 18 Pa.C.S. § 4904 (relating to unsworn falsification to authorities).

(3) A party shall comply with the requirements of 23 Pa.C.S. § 4353 (relating to duty to report).

(4) If a party fails to provide a family information statement, the other party shall supply the information in the statement to the best of the party's knowledge.

(b) Sanctions.--If a party intentionally fails to file a family information statement, the judge may impose sanctions or dismiss a party's pleadings subject to reinstatement upon conditions imposed by the judge.

(c) Custody.--If the complaint includes the issue of custody, the complaint and cross-complaint shall be accompanied by a written statement regarding the proposed custody arrangement or supervision of children. Nothing in this subsection shall be construed to limit the court's ability to require the parties to develop a parenting plan as provided in 23 Pa.C.S. § 5331 (relating to parenting plan).

§ 7213. Differentiated case management.

(a) Establishment.--Each judicial district shall establish a differentiated case management system for the handling of family actions in accordance with this section.

(b) Assignment.--A family action shall be assigned to one of the following tracks as follows:

(1) If the family action includes a child custody dispute, it shall be assigned to the priority track.

(2) A family action shall be assigned to the complex track if it appears likely that this action will require a disproportionate expenditure of a court's and a party's resources in preparation for trial and at trial due to any of the following:

(i) Number of claims and defenses raised.

(ii) Legal difficulty of the issues presented.

(iii) Factual difficulty of the subject matter.

(iv) Length and complexity of discovery.

(v) A combination of these and other factors.

(3) If the family action appears to be capable of being tried promptly with minimal pretrial proceedings, it shall be assigned to the expedited track.

(4) If the family action is not qualified to be placed on the priority track, the complex track or the expedited track, it shall be assigned to the standard track.

(c) Expedited track assignment.--Subject to subsection (e), a family action shall be assigned to the expedited track if any of the following apply:

(1) There is no dispute as to the income or assets of the parties and custody of minor children is not an issue.

(2) The parties have been married less than five years and have no children.

(3) The parties have entered into a property settlement agreement and custody of minor children is not an issue.

(4) The divorce is uncontested and custody of minor children is not an issue.

(5) The petition alleges facts supporting a conclusion that there is an emergency.

(d) Procedure.--The judge shall make the track assignment as soon as practicable after each party has filed a family information statement or after the case management conference required by section 7214 (relating to case management conference), whichever is earlier. In making the track assignment, the judge shall consider a party's request for track assignment. If all the parties agree on a track assignment, the case shall not be assigned a different track except for good cause shown after giving all parties the opportunity to be heard either orally or in writing. If it is not clear from an examination of the information provided by the parties which track assignment is appropriate, the family action shall be assigned to the track which affords the greatest degree of management. The parties shall be promptly advised of the track assignment.

(e) Reassignment.--A judge may reassign a family action to a track other than that specified in the original notice to the parties either on the judge's own motion or upon a party's application. Unless the court otherwise directs, a party's application may be made informally to the judge and shall state with specificity the reasons for request for reassignment. Upon reassignment, the parties are not required to refile court documents. The case management team shall continue to use the original docket or file number.

§ 7214. Case management conference.

(a) General rule.--After the filing of the family information statement, in any family action, the judge shall direct the parties to participate in a case management conference, which may be conducted in person or by telephone, to consider the following matters before the family action is assigned to a differentiated case management track:

(1) Identification and simplification of the issues.

(2) Necessity or desirability of amending the pleadings.

(3) Possibility of obtaining admissions of fact and documents which will avoid unnecessary proof or discovery.

(4) Participation in mediation and the separating parents seminar.

(5) Limitation of expert witnesses.

(6) Appointment of a court-appointed special advocate, a guardian ad litem or an attorney for a minor child.

(7) Establishment of a discovery schedule and determination of its scope.

(8) Such other matters as the judge deems appropriate.

(b) Order.--

(1) The judge shall issue an order which recites the action taken at the case management conference. This paragraph includes:

(i) Amendments allowed to the pleadings.

(ii) Agreements made by the parties as to any of the matters considered.

(iii) Discovery schedule.

(iv) A court-appointed special advocate, a guardian ad litem or an attorney for a minor.

(v) Participation in mediation and the separating parents seminar.

(vi) Dates for any additional case management conferences.

(vii) Firm trial date.

(viii) Any other matter the judge deems appropriate.

(2) The order shall control the subsequent course of the family action up to the time of trial before the judge. If the parties proceed to trial, the order may be modified by the judge at the judge's discretion.

§ 7215. Consolidation.

(a) Family law master.--In the absence of a judge's order to the contrary, if a family action is placed on the expedited track or the standard track and if custody is not an issue which the family law master will hear, a family law master may consolidate as much of the family litigation as practicable and dispose of it at one proceeding.

(b) Judge.--With the exception of custody, at the case management conference, a judge may order consolidation of family litigation.

§ 7216. Bifurcation.

(a) General rule.--Except as set forth in subsection (b), in a family action where a complaint for divorce is filed, a decree of divorce shall not be granted prior to entry of an order resolving all pending claims for equitable division of marital property, alimony, counsel fees, costs and expenses.

(b) Exception.--In a family action in which a complaint for divorce is filed, if a party can show exceptional circumstances, a decree of divorce may be granted prior to entry of an order resolving all pending claims for equitable division of marital property, alimony, counsel fees, costs and expenses upon the approval of the:

(1) president judge of the court of common pleas in a judicial district in which there is no family division; or

(2) administrative judge of the family division of the court of common pleas in a judicial district in which there is a family division.

§ 7217. Continuous trials. Insofar as is practicable, court calendars shall be designed to allow family actions to be tried continuously to conclusion. If a family action is not tried continuously, the record at each day's proceedings shall document the reason for the fragmentation.

§ 7218. Tentative decisions. The judge may, prior to the scheduled date of hearing or oral argument on a matter involving family litigation, decide the matter on the basis of the papers filed of record or such briefs as may be filed by the parties, subsequently posting the tentative decision and making it available to the parties. Unless a party objects, with notice to the opposing party, the request for oral argument or hearing shall be deemed withdrawn; and the tentative decision shall become final and shall be set forth in an appropriate order. If a party renews the request for oral argument or hearing, with notice to the opposing party, the motion shall be argued or heard as scheduled.

§ 7219. Motions day.

(a) Establishment.--Each judicial district shall designate one or more days each week for the hearing and disposing of motions.

(b) Procedure.--Motions not disposed of in accordance with section 7218 (relating to tentative decisions) shall be scheduled for oral argument or hearing, which shall be staggered throughout the day. The court may conduct an argument or hearing by telephone.

§ 7220. Case management teams.

(a) Establishment.--Each judicial district shall establish one or more case management teams within the domestic relations section of the court of common pleas, to be headed by a case management team leader, to effectively manage and process family litigation from filing to final disposition. The team shall be supervised by a judge. Insofar as practicable, each time a party seeks modification of an order involving family litigation, the family action shall be assigned to the same case management team.

(b) Duties.--The case management team shall be responsible for the timely management and processing of family actions and shall, subject to supervision and orders of the judge, do all of the following:

(1) Coordinate the timely filing of reports, recommendations, evaluations and other writings necessary to the disposition of family litigation.

(2) Participate, as necessary, in case management conferences.

(3) Assign family actions to differentiated case management tracks.

(4) Notify parents of the separating parents seminar.

(5) Assign that portion of family litigation involving custody to mediation.

(6) Share, as appropriate, information with other government agencies.

(7) Cooperate with other employees of the domestic relations section or the Department of Public Welfare, as needed, pursuant to 23 Pa.C.S. Ch. 43 (relating to support matters generally).

(8) Perform other duties as the judge may direct in order to effectuate the timely, fair and cost-efficient disposition of family actions.

§ 7221. Family law masters.

(a) Appointment.--Subject to section 7222(h) (relating to mediation), a judge may appoint a family law master to hear any aspect of family litigation except custody.

(b) Qualifications.--A family law master must be an attorney at law and must comply with judicial education requirements as provided in section 7230 (relating to judicial education seminar).

(c) Requirements.--The family law master shall comply with orders issued by the judge, including differentiated case management systems track assignment, and shall cooperate with the case management team with regard to the timely filing of reports, recommendations and other writings.

(d) Powers and duties.--The family law master has the following powers and duties:

(1) Take testimony and establish a record.

(2) Make findings of fact, conclusions of law and recommendations to the judge for the establishment and enforcement of an order.

(3) Other powers and duties as provided by the judge's order.

(e) Prohibition.--Notwithstanding any statutory provision of law to the contrary, a person who is not a judge or family law master may not hear or decide matters which establish or modify the amount of child or spousal support.

§ 7222. Mediation.

(a) Program established.--Each judicial district shall establish a program of mandatory mediation which:

(1) Facilitates and encourages the parties to resolve custody disputes with the help of a neutral third party.

(2) Contains a mediation orientation program for the parties.

(3) Is closed to the public and is confidential.

(b) Requirement.--Subject to subsection (c), the parties shall be referred to mediation for the resolution of a custody dispute in accordance with the child's best interests. Upon referral, the parties shall be required to attend a mediation orientation program.

(c) Exception.--A party may be excused from mediation or the mediation orientation program for good cause shown. This subsection includes:

(1) A history of child abuse or neglect, child sexual abuse or exploitation or domestic violence by a party.

(2) Evidence that parties are currently participating in private mediation.

(d) Standards.--The Supreme Court shall, by general rule, provide standards for the hiring and training of mediators. This subsection includes:

(1) Minimum qualifications, which shall not be restricted to any particular professional or educational training.

(2) Minimum requirements for training in the procedural aspects of mediation and the interpersonal skills necessary to act as an effective mediator.

(3) A minimum period of apprenticeship for individuals who have not previously acted as mediators.

(4) Procedures to ensure that potential mediators understand the high standard of ethics and confidentiality related to their participation in the program.

(e) Mandatory education.--

(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), a mediator must successfully complete a program of education appropriate for mediators in custody disputes approved by the Academy of Family Mediators within six months of the later of:

(i) the date of appointment; or

(ii) the effective date of this section.

(2) Paragraph (1) does not apply to a mediator who has already attended and successfully completed such a program prior to the appropriate date.

(3) Failure to fulfill this educational requirement shall cause the mediator to forfeit the position.

(f) Cooperation with case management team.--A mediator shall cooperate with the case management team with regard to the timely filing of reports, recommendations and other writings and shall comply with any orders issued by a judge.

(g) Fees.--Each judicial district shall establish a sliding schedule of fees for participation in the mediation program, based on a party's ability to pay. Unless the judge issues an order to the contrary, the fee for mediation shall be borne equally by the parties.

(h) Excuse.--If a party is excused from mediation pursuant to subsection (b), a family law master shall hear that part of a family action involving custody.

(i) Custody evaluation.--A mediator or family law master may refer the parties to custody evaluation. A mediator may not act as a custody evaluator for the parties who appear before the mediator without the express written consent of the parties and approval by the judge.

§ 7223. Appeals.

(a) Right of appeal.--A party may appeal a recommendation, ruling or decision made by a family law master to a judge. All issues in a family action not resolved to a party's satisfaction by a family law master shall be heard by a judge at one proceeding in accordance with section 7217 (relating to continuous trials).

(b) Postmediation procedure.--If the parties do not resolve a custody dispute during mediation, that part of the family action involving custody shall be consolidated with any appeals brought under subsection (a).

§ 7224. Separating parents seminar. Each judicial district shall establish a seminar for separating parents. The seminar shall include the following topics and others as the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts may designate:

(1) The:

(i) procedural aspects of family litigation;

(ii) availability of court services to aid self- litigants and represented parties; and

(iii) availability of community and government services to treat drug or alcohol abuse and to help victims of domestic violence, child sexual abuse and exploitation and child abuse and neglect.

(2) Basic child psychology and strategies to minimize the adverse effects of separation or divorce on children.

(3) The potential benefits of mediation.

§ 7225. Seminar for children of separating parents.

(a) Option.--A judicial district may establish a program for children of separating parents for children eight years of age and older.

(b) Establishment.--If a judicial district establishes the program under subsection (a), the judicial district shall do so in cooperation with and at the direction of the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts. In designing a seminar, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts shall consult with experts in the fields of child psychology, child abuse and neglect, family pathology and similar fields to ensure that the content of the seminar is suited to children and will not serve to further traumatize children of separating parents.

§ 7226. Family Justice Account.

(a) Establishment.--There is established within the General Fund a restricted account, called the Family Justice Account.

(b) Purpose.--The purpose of the account is to fund the cost of court-ordered mediation, court-ordered custody evaluation, proceedings before family law masters and other costs or fees associated with family litigation when a party is unable to pay such costs or fees by reason of poverty or financial hardship.

(c) Procedure.--

(1) Each judicial district may, through the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, make application for payment by the account. Money received from the account shall only be used to reimburse expenses enumerated in subsection (b).

(2) A party may seek relief from costs and fees enumerated in subsection (b) upon application to the judge by submitting a sworn or affirmed statement regarding poverty or financial hardship. The statement should be filed along with the family information statement, but it may be filed at any time prior to final disposition of the family action.

§ 7227. Family resource center.

(a) Establishment.--Each judicial district shall establish a family resource center to be located in the courthouse or another centralized location where family litigation is heard and decided.

(b) Purpose.--The purpose of the family resource center is to provide parties and other interested persons a central location where they may do all of the following:

(1) Gain access to easily understandable information regarding the substantive and procedural aspects of family litigation.

(2) Gain access to easily understandable information regarding protection from abuse orders, shelters and other government and community services designed to help victims of domestic violence and child abuse and neglect.

(3) Direct inquiries regarding the family law adjudication system.

(4) Find a suitable place to leave children during court proceedings, mediation or other court-ordered activities.

(5) Find a suitable place to meet with volunteer lawyers.

(c) Services.--A family resource center shall provide all of the following:

(1) An appropriate, supervised place for children to wait while a party is taking part in court proceedings, mediation or other court-ordered activity.

(2) Easily understandable information and other materials and legal books regarding the substantive law of family litigation. This paragraph includes forms.

(3) The family law manual under section 7228 (relating to family law manual).

(4) At least one employee who shall be responsible for answering, during the entire court day, general questions from parties and other interested persons regarding the family law adjudication system, the procedural aspects of family litigation and the substantive law of family litigation. The employee shall also make referrals to appropriate government and community resources. The information provided by the employee shall not be construed as legal advice. The employee shall be absolutely immune from suit when performing duties under this paragraph.

§ 7228. Family law manual.

(a) Development.--Each judicial district, in cooperation with the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts, shall develop a family law manual which does all of the following:

(1) Explains in basic terms Pennsylvania substantive law regarding family litigation.

(2) Explains in basic terms the procedural aspects of family litigation.

(3) Explains in basic terms the substantive and procedural law regarding protection from abuse.

(4) Provides a basic guide to family litigation motion's practice.

(5) Provides telephone numbers and addresses within that judicial district for government and community services designed to:

(i) provide treatment and prevention services for drug or alcohol abuse;

(ii) protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation, child abuse and neglect;

(iii) assist victims of domestic violence;

(iv) provide free or low-cost legal assistance; and

(v) provide free or low-cost psychological services.

(b) Availability.--

(1) A party must receive the manual at no cost after initiating or responding to a family action and no later than the date of attending the separating parents seminar.

(2) The manual shall be available without cost to any person upon request. The manual shall be available over the Internet or through other electronic means readily accessible to the general public.

§ 7229. Volunteer lawyers. It is the intent of the General Assembly to encourage attorneys at law to volunteer their time to help self- represented litigants by providing a suitable place within the family resource center for volunteer lawyers to meet with parties who cannot afford lawyers. The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts shall work with State and county bar associations to develop policies and procedures to encourage attorneys to join the volunteer lawyers program.

§ 7230. Judicial education seminar.

(a) General rule.--

(1) Except as provided in paragraph (2), each judge and family law master who hears family litigation must successfully complete courses of instruction at the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges within six months of the later of:

(i) the date of first assignment to family litigation; or

(ii) the effective date of this section.

(2) Paragraph (1) does not apply to a judge or family law master who has already successfully completed such a program prior to the appropriate date.

(3) Every two years, the judge or family law master must successfully complete courses at the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

(b) Continuing education in family law.--Every two years, each judge and family law master must successfully complete the program established in section 7231 (relating to continuing judicial education).

(c) Penalty.--Failure to comply with this section shall result in the judge or family law master being subject to disciplinary action pursuant to section 18 of Article V of the Constitution of Pennsylvania.

(d) Monitoring.--The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts shall monitor compliance with this section by judges and family law masters and shall notify the Judicial Conduct Board of noncompliance by any judge or family law master.

§ 7231. Continuing judicial education.

(a) Establishment.--There is established a continuing judicial education program. The program shall be designed and administered by the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts.

(b) Functions.--The Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts has the following powers and duties:

(1) Design and administer a course of study and training for judges and family law masters who hear family litigation to be at least 20 hours in length on the following topics:

(i) The substantive law of family litigation.

(ii) The procedural aspects of family litigation.

(iii) Child development and child psychology.

(iv) Child sexual abuse and exploitation, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence and other family pathologies and Pennsylvania law relating to these topics.

(v) Mental and behavioral health and alcohol and drug abuse.

(vi) Alternate dispute resolution.

(vii) Financial aspects of family litigation, including the law of taxation, trusts and estates, employee benefits, workers' compensation and business valuation.

(2) Establish minimum qualifications for instructors.

(3) Consult, cooperate and contract with universities, colleges, law schools and mental health and health care professionals regarding the development of courses in the program and the teaching of those courses.

If you have questions about a custody, divorce, support or paternity matter and how it will be dealt with under the new Act when and if it becomes law, please contact us.  You may reach Shaffer & Engle Law Offices, LLC toll free or email us today.

No Comments

Leave a comment
Comment Information