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Common Questions About Child Custody And Support

Few cases are more emotionally impactful than child custody. Your relationship with your kids – not to mention their well-being and day-to-day life and upbringing – will all be affected.

Child custody issues can arise from a divorce, separation or paternity action. In all of these cases, the legal standards and general process are the same.

At ACS Family Law, PLLC, I can help you navigate custody cases with skill and care. I’m Anna Sulanowski, the firm’s founding attorney. As a former guardian ad litem (court-appointed representative) for foster kids, I understand the court system and the legal standards involved. I bring a compassionate and empathetic approach to all family law cases.

Here are answers to some common questions I hear about child custody cases in Pennsylvania.

How is a custody action initiated?

Although the procedural specificity varies from county to county, a custody action is generally initiated by filing a custody complaint and criminal verification in the county where the child has lived during the last six months.

Why am I required to take a co-parenting seminar?

Once the initial complaint has been filed, both parties are required to attend a co-parenting seminar, regardless of the level of conflict between the parties. Depending on their age, some counties also require children to attend a similar seminar. Participation is mandatory, even if the parties already have a custody agreement. Failure to appear by the non-moving party will result in the court issuing a “Rule to Show Cause,” requiring that party to appear before the court to explain their failure to attend and why they should not be held in contempt of court. Failure to appear by the moving party will result in the action being dismissed.

What happens after the co-parenting seminar?

Once the co-parenting seminar requirements are met, a mediation will be scheduled. Some counties refer to these as a custody conference or conciliation, but despite semantics, they generally follow the same procedure. The goal is to reach a custody agreement that works for both parties. If no agreement is reached, the case may proceed to litigation or additional mediations, depending on the county.

I know I cannot reach an agreement with the opposing party. Can I go straight to trial?

No. The court does not wish to interfere with the parties’ fundamental right to parent as they see fit and will only intervene if absolutely necessary. Most cases are able to be resolved prior to trial, even if certain issues must be litigated in motions court.

How much will my custody case cost?

Cost will vary depending on a number of factors, such as cooperation from the opposing party, whether that party is represented, the complexity of the legal issues and the ability of the parties to forge a settlement.

How is child support calculated?

The Pennsylvania legislature has enacted guidelines that take into consideration the parties’ respective incomes, number of children and current custody order. Courts may only deviate from these guidelines by specifying in writing or on the record the reason for its findings of fact justifying the amount of the deviation.

The Pennsylvania child support guidelines are codified at Pa. R.C.P. 1910.16-3.

How long will it take to receive support?

Usually, the first payment is due the first of the month following entrance of the support order. Payments are not exchanged between the parties and must be processed through the Pennsylvania State Collection & Disbursement Unit in Harrisburg before being released.

What happens after filing a support complaint?

A support conference will occur before a domestic relations officer, who runs support calculations pursuant to the state guidelines. If the parties do not agree to the amount calculated and/or are otherwise unable to forge an agreement, the case will proceed to a hearing before a hearing officer. Allegheny County holds this hearing the same day, but most counties schedule this hearing for a later date.

Let’s Talk About Your Custody Questions During A Free Consultation

It’s important to talk with a lawyer about answers to your specific questions. I offer free consultations so you can get to know me better. To learn more, please reach out online or call my office in Mt. Lebanon at 412-557-7763.