Child Custody FAQs
- What is the different between "custody," "legal custody," "physical custody," "shared custody," "partial custody," and "visitation"?
- Do I need to have an attorney to file for custody?
- How do I file for custody or visitation?
- How much does it cost to file for custody?
- What if I cannot afford the filing fee?
- Why is my case scheduled for a conference, not a hearing?
- What happens when a custody agreement is reached?
- What happens when the parties cannot agree?
- I already have a custody order. How do I make changes to it?
- The other party is not following the Order. How do I enforce it?
- Where can I find additional information regarding child custody?
- Where can I get legal assistance?
- Where can I find information about the Parenting Classes?
- Could I see the steps in the Custody Process laid out in an easy to understand way?
"Custody" means the legal right to keep, control, guard, care for and preserve a child and includes terms "legal custody," "physical custody," and "shared custody."
"Legal custody" means the legal right to make major decisions affecting the best interests of a minor child, including buy not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions.
"Physical custody" means actual physical control of a child.
"Shared custody" means shared legal or shared physical custody or both of a child in such a way as to assure the child of frequent and continuing contact, including physical access, to both parties.
"Partial custody" means the right to take possession of a child away from the custodial person for a certain period of time.
"Visitation" means the right to visit a child, but does not include the right to remove the child from the custodial person's control.
Note: The above definitions are taken from the PA Rule of Civil Procedure 1915.1 and 23 Pa.C.S. § 5302.
The choice to have an attorney is yours. The court does not require you to do so. For more information see the General FAQs.
The first document you must prepare is called a COMPLAINT. The function of the complaint is to tell the Court and Defendant the reason for filing the lawsuit and what outcome you want. You may download the form from the Download section of this site. Be sure to state your case in clear, concise terms. Submit your completed forms to the Family Hearing Office so the matter can be scheduled for a conference.
To file an original Custody Complaint, the filing fee is $106.50 (subject to change). As no personal checks are accepted, payment should be made by either a money order or certified check, made out to the "Prothonotary's Office."
You may request that the fee be waived by filling out a PRECIPE TO PROCEED IN FORMA PAUPERIS and filing it with your complaint. If your Precipe is approved, the filing fee will be waived and your case will proceed.
The objective of the custody conference is to determine whether the parties can agree to a custody arrangement which will be entered as an Order of Court, or if they cannot agree, what steps are necessary before a hearing may be held. The conference is informal, is not recorded and no testimony is obtained from either parties or witnesses. This is your opportunity to make you own decisions about what is best for you and your children. The Court does not want to interfere in these personal decisions unless forced to do so because you are not able to work out your own custody arrangement.
The terms of the agreement will be written into an Order of Court and signed by a judge, which you should received within 10 days of the conference.
When a full agreement cannot be reached, the parties are ordered to take parenting classes. After one of the parties completes the parenting program, the matter will be scheduled for a formal hearing. The hearing will give you the opportunity to present testimony and subpoena witnesses to testify for you. At the conclusion of the hearing, the judge will make a decision regarding custody of the children and an Order will be issued, reflecting that decision. All parties involved will be expected to follow the judge's Order of Court.
As your children grow older, your Court Order may no longer apply to your present circumstances, or you may desire a more specific holiday/vacation schedule. In either case, you may file a PETITION TO MODIFY CUSTODY. There are no fees to file a Petition to Modify Custody. You may download the form from the Download section of this site. Be sure to state you case in clear, concise terms. Submit your completed forms to the Family Hearing Office so the matter can be scheduled for a conference.
If the other party is not abiding by the Custody Order,you may file a CONTEMPT PETITION. The matter will then be scheduled for a hearing with a judge on the issues raised in your Petition. You may download the form from the Download section of this site. Be sure to state you case in clear, concise terms. Submit your completed forms to the Court Administrator's Office so the matter can be scheduled for a hearing.
The Family Hearing Office handles all custody matters in both Warren and Forest Counties. Feel free to contact the office staff with additional questions. However, the Court and its staff 'cannot provide legal advice'. Any legal questions should be directed to your attorney.
You may contact Northwestern Legal Services at 800-665-6957. While they may not be able to help you directly, they can point you to someone you can.
The parenting classes are provided by Forest-Warren Human Services. You may call them at 814-726-2100 for more information.
If you do not live in Warren or Forest Counties, you may take a class of similar content offered in your home area. Make sure to forward a Certificate of Completion to the Family Hearing Office.