3/19/16 – A note from our fearless leader back when we first set up the Facebook page and weren’t quite sure what we were doing, so this one didn’t get much traction, but it’s still relevant!
I practice family law in several different counties. My home county is Venango County. The City of Franklin is where the courthouse sits and where all of one’s Child Custody hearings will be held.
There are three hearings that one may go through when litigating custody in Venango County.
Before litigating, you may want to consider taking advantage of my office’s free consultation.
In that we can talk about the likelihood of entering into a Consent Order. A Consent Order is achieved without litigation when both parties agree to which periods of time they would like with the child/children. My office would draft the agreement, have both parties sign the agreement, and petition the court for a Consent Order. When both parties agree, no one has to go to court.
If there is dispute between the parties on how much time and when they will have time with their child/children, then the first step is the preparation of a Custody Complaint (or, if there is an existing order, a Petition to Modify Custody).
Once this is filed, the court will schedule a Conciliation hearing.
Before attending that hearing you should schedule to attend the Venango County Parenting Seminar.
This seminar is currently run by LeGoullon Counseling Services
You can find the brochure attached here. There is a fee that is associated with this program.
At the Conciliation a third party lawyer is appointed to aid the parties in finding an agreement to a custody schedule. The Conciliator does not determine who is right or wrong. The Conciliator will help address issues that either party has in regards to custody, but the Conciliator is not to force an order onto the parties.
You are permitted to have your attorney at this hearing to speak on your behalf and to consult with during the hearing. If no agreement is reached or you feel the Conciliator stepped above their authority by creating their own agreement, then you may ask the court to schedule a Mediation hearing.
A Mediation hearing has a filing fee that both parties must pay before the Mediation hearing occurs.
If the fee is not paid, a party may be found in contempt of court or be required to attend compliance court. In either case, the court will determine the party’s means in paying the court cost. The Mediation hearing is set for a three-hour period with a different third party lawyer.
You are not permitted to have a lawyer at this hearing.
At the end of the hearing, if an agreement is reached, the Mediator will publish a Memo of Understanding.
The parties are permitted to take this memo to their lawyers, at which point an agreement can be drafted.
If no agreement is reached, then a Pre-Trial Narrative must be submitted to the court.
My office provides an appointment before and after the Mediation hearing so that you will feel ready to state your desired outcome for the custody arrangement to the Mediator.
Finally, the last hearing is the Custody Trial. A pretrial conference will be held before the trial to determine how many days, who will testify, and what will be entered as evidence.
Clients will have time with my office before the trial so that as a team, we are prepared to present your case.
At trial, the court will listen to the parties and consider evidence on which child custody arrangement is in the best interest of the child/children. Once the evidence is closed, the judge will determine what is in the best interest of the child/children.
As a final note, and really the most important one, everyone in the system cares about the child/children who are involved in these Child Custody cases.
In Venango County, Pennsylvania, the court uses Child Advocates to speak on the behalf of the child/children. A party may motion for a Child Advocate to be appointed. A Child Advocate is to represent the child/children and to help the child/children feel comfortable with the process.
The child/children never have to speak at the Conciliation hearing or the Mediation Hearing, but the Child Advocate will inform the parties of the position of the child/children.
If your case should go to trial, the Venango County Judges are very experienced in making this process easy on the child/children.
The child/children will testify in chambers with the Judge, Child Advocate, and the parties’ attorneys. The child/children do not testify in front of their parents.
The cost of the Child Advocate is generally spilt amongst the parties. In a nutshell, these are the Child Custody procedures in Venango County. If you have any questions or would like to schedule your free consultation, please contact our office at (814) 758-5659.