Child Custody FAQs

What are the different types of custody?

Legal custody: The right to make major decisions on behalf of the child, including, but not limited to, medical, religious and educational decisions.

Shared legal custody: The right of more than one individual to legal custody of the child.

Sole legal custody: The right of one individual to exclusive legal custody of the child.

Physical custody: The actual physical possession and control of a child.

Partial physical custody: The right to assume physical custody of the child for less than a majority of the time.

Primary physical custody: The right to assume physical custody of the child for the majority of time.

Shared physical custody: The right of more than one individual to assume physical custody of the child, each having significant periods of physical custodial time with the child.

Sole physical custody: The right of one individual to exclusive physical custody of the child.

Supervised physical custody: Custodial time during which an agency or an adult designated by the court or agreed upon by the parties monitors the interaction between the child and the individual with those rights.

Relocation: A change in a residence of the child which significantly impairs the ability of a nonrelocating party to exercise custodial rights.

Note: The above definitions are taken from 23 Pa.C.S. § 5322(a).

Do I need to have an attorney to file for custody?

The choice to have an attorney is yours. The court does not require you to do so. For more information see the General FAQs.

How do I file for custody or visitation?

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.

How much does it cost to file for custody?

To file an original Custody Complaint, the filing fee is $119.00 in Warren County and $109.00 in Forest County (subject to change). As no personal checks are accepted, payment should be made by either a money order or certified check, made payable to the "Prothonotary's Office."

What if I cannot afford the filing fee?

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.

Why is my case scheduled for a conference, not a hearing?

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.

What happens when a custody agreement is reached?

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.

What happens when the parties cannot agree?

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.

I already have a custody order. How do I make changes to it?

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.

The other party is not following the Order. How do I enforce it?

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.

Where can I find additional information regarding child custody?

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.

Where can I get legal assistance?

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.

Where can I find information about the Parenting Classes?

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.

Could I see the steps in the Custody Process laid out in an easy to understand way?

Custody Procedure Flowchart
37th Judicial District of Pennsylvania
Warren and Forest Counties
Do youalready have aWarren/ForestCounty CustodyOrder?
File an original
Complaint for Custody
[Object]
File a Petition for Modification of Custody
[Object]
Attend a conference before the Court Hearing Officer
[Object]
Agreement
reached at the
Conference?
[Object]
An Interim (temporary) Order may be recommended by the Hearing Officer if deemed necessary
[Object]
Parties attend mandatory
parenting class
[Object]
A proposed Order
is prepared and
forwarded to Judge
for approval
[Object]
What
issues are in
dispute?
[Object]
Hearing before Judge.
Judge issues an Order
[Object]
Hearing before Hearing Officer. Hearing Officer issues Report and Recommended Order with 20 days to file exceptions
[Object]
Argument on
exceptions before
Judge. Judge issues
an Order
[Object]
Have
exceptions
been
filed?
[Object]
Judge confirms Recommended Order
after 20 days
[Object]
No
[Object]
Yes
[Object]
Yes
[Object]
No
[Object]
Partial
Physical Custody or
Supervised Physical Custody
[Object]
Primary
Physical Custody,
Shared Physical Custody,
or Legal Custody
[Object]
No
[Object]
Yes
[Object]

The above flowchart is also available to download as a pdf document: Custody Flowchart.pdf