Filing for child custody or child custody modification is a procedurally and factually complex process. Additionally, each county court in Pennsylvania has their unique requirements and nuances. The PA child custody lawyers at Schwartz, Fox and Saltzman, LLC have over 40 years of experience litigating child custody throughout the Philadelphia metropolitan area, including Chester County, Montgomery County, Bucks County, Delaware County, and Lehigh County.
General Steps for Filing for Child Custody in Pennsylvania
If you and your child’s other parent can reach an amicable agreement, our lawyers can incorporate your agreement in a final custody order. If you cannot reach an agreement, consider using a mediator to help guide you and the child’s other parent toward an agreement. If these options are unsuccessful or not viable, you should file a child custody lawsuit.
Determine How to File
Filing for child custody begins with filling out various legal documents. Following this, you must file the documents with the correct court. Depending on the court, you may be able to file your documents electronically, or you will have to file them either via mail or in person.
Fill Out Appropriate Paperwork
You must complete a Complaint for Custody if there is no child custody order. If there is an existing child custody order, you must fill out a Petition for Modification of a Custody Order along with:
- A Confidential Information Form
- A Certificate of Compliance
- A Criminal Record/Abuse History Verification Form
- Notice to Defend
- Scheduling Order
- If you choose to represent yourself “pro se,” you will also file a Self-Represented Party Entry of Appearance.
These forms, along with county specific forms, can be found on the Pennsylvania Court’s website.
Open a Case
To open a child custody case, you must file your Complaint or Petition with the Clerk of the Court hearing your case. You must also pay a filing fee which can range between $57 to $300 depending on the court in which you are filing your lawsuit. If you cannot afford the filing fee, you can file a Petition to Proceed In Forma Pauperis to obtain a waiver from the court.
Serve the Other Parent
In most counties, the Court will mail the Custody Complaint or Petition to Modify directly to the Defendant. If the mailing is not returned by the U.S. Mail as not servable, service of the Complaint or Motion is presumed to have occurred.
Filing for Child Custody Differs by County
Each county in Pennsylvania is unique. Specifically, each county has different rules regarding how child custody matters are filed and filing fees. This rule also applies to each county’s court.
In addition to a $107.13 filing fee, Philadelphia requires you to prepare and file a Domestic Relations Information Sheet with the Complaint. Additionally, Philadelphia’s Family Court no longer accepts electronic pleading. Instead, the pleadings must be filed in person at 1501 Arch St, Philadelphia, PA 19102.
Family law matters are not permitted to be filed electronically in Chester County and must be filed at 201 W. Market St, West Chester, PA 19380. The filing fee for a Complaint for Custody is $212.25, while the fee for a Petition to Modify Custody is $128.00. The forms Chester County requires can be found here.
Montgomery County allows electronic filing, however emergency petitions must be filed in person. You can also mail your Complaint or Petition to the Clerk of Courts Office, P.O. Box 311, Norristown, PA 19404-0311. The filing fee for a Complaint is $299.00, while the fee for a Petition is $80.50.
Bucks County permits electronic filing, however emergency matters must be filed in person at 100 N Main Street, Doylestown, PA 18901. The filing fee for a Complaint for Custody is $265.75. Additionally, the filing fee for a Petition for Modification is $51.00.
Delaware County does not allow family law matters to be filed electronically. Instead, you must mail or file your papers at 201 West Front Street, Media, PA 19063. The fee for a Complaint for Custody is $308.75, while the fee for a Petition for Modification is $128.00.
Electronic filing is mandatory in Lehigh County. Litigants must create a profile and open their cases electronically. The filing fees are $206.00 for a Complaint for Custody and $28.50 for a Petition for Modification.
Determining the Type of Custody
When filing for child custody, you can seek legal or physical custody or both. Legal custody means a parent has legal authority regarding major life decisions for the child, while physical custody means a parent has daily physical control of the child. Physical and legal custody can be solely vested with one parent or shared by both parties.
For example, you may seek primary physical custody is you want your child to live with you a majority of the time but are fine with the other parent having partial physical custody. Alternatively, you and the other parent may agree on a shared physical custody arrangement so you child spends approximately the same amount of time with both of you.
These are critically important decisions and generally should be made after discussion with a family lawyer. You need to determine which type of child custody, both physical and legal, works best for you and the other parent that keeps your child’s best interests at the forefront be that shared, primary / partial, or sole physical custody.
How Much Does It Cost to File for Custody in P.A.?
The answer is “it depends.” As illustrated above, each county has different filing fees.
Can You File for Custody Online?
Similar to the cost of divorce, the answer is “it depends.” Some Counties permit or require electronic filing. However, some Counties specifically prohibit family law matters from being filed electronically.
Pennsylvania Child Custody Modification
If both parents agree, a child custody order can be modified at any time voluntarily. However, there are many instances in which one party seeks a modification which the other parent opposes. In these instances, the parent seeking a modification must file a Petition with the court.
Reasons for Custody Modification
Unlike other states, Pennsylvania does not require a material change in circumstances to modify custody. Instead, parents often seek modifications because:
- They obtained a new job and want to relocate;
- They want to spend more time with the child;
- The other parent is abusing drugs or alcohol;
- The child wants to live with them permanently; or
- The parent has fallen ill
Child Custody Laws on Relocation
If you are the custodial parent and intend to relocate with your child either within Pennsylvania or to a new State, section §5337 requires you to provide notice to the other parent 60 days before relocating. Specifically, you must file a Notice of Proposed Relocation With Court Case and provide the other parent with a Counter Affidavit Regarding Relocation. The court proceedings will determine if relocation is in the child’s best interest. Relocation matters can be complex, especially if school choice is an issue.
Filing for Emergency Child Custody in P.A.
You can file for emergency custody in P.A. if you can prove your child faces immediate danger. Parents often seek emergency custody due to:
- Physical or sexual abuse;
- The other parent has been charged with a violent crime;
- Severe alcohol or drug abuse by the other parent; or
- The child is subject to unsafe living conditions, such as lacking water or heat
The Courts treat emergency petitions as serious matters, so you should collect evidence supporting your allegations before filing.
How a Child Custody Attorney Helps
A child custody attorney can build your case and guide you through the legal process. We know how to build a case for why your child’s interests are served by your having legal and physical custody. The attorneys at Schwartz, Fox & Saltzman have been litigating child custody matters in the Philadelphia metropolitan area for over 40 years.
Summary of Filing for Child Custody in P.A.
The child custody legal process can be confusing and complex. Due to the unique requirements of the courts in Philadelphia, Chester County, Montgomery County, Bucks County, Delaware County, and Lehigh County, experienced legal representation is essential. To learn more about our services, contact us today!