Once parties separate and either party files a Custody Complaint with the Court, in most counties in Pennsylvania, the first legal proceeding will a custody conciliation. A custody conciliation is an opportunity for the parent(s) (or the individuals who otherwise have custody or standing to sue for custody of the child(ren)) to discuss their concerns relating to custody of the child(ren) and to work out a custody order that will be in the best interests of the child(ren). At the end of the conciliation, the conciliator will either dictate the agreement reached by the parties or recommend a temporary Order to be followed until a trial can be held. Every custody order is unique to the parties involved, but topics typically covered in a custody order include legal custody, physical custody (i.e. the actual custody schedule), transportation, communication between the parties, education, and drug and alcohol usage.
Custody conciliations are presided over by custody conciliators, who are attorneys appointed by the county to mediate custody disputes. Depending on the county, they can also be presided over by the Judge. Custody conciliators cannot force parties to come to an agreement. Therefore, if the parties in a conciliation are unable to reach an agreement regarding custody of the child(ren), then the conciliator will refer the matter to a judge. If there is no existing Order, however, the conciliator can and most times will, recommend an Order for the Judge to sign that the parties will have to abide by until the trial.
While a custody conciliation is more informal than a custody trial, the parties should nevertheless be well-prepared to discuss their concerns and be respectful at all times. More often than not, parties are able to come to an agreement at a conciliation. Even if parties are unable to come to an agreement, the conciliator will provide feedback to the judge after the conciliation, so it is important to remember that anything that is discussed or which occurs at the conciliation may be part of that feedback which will be reviewed by the Judge prior to the trial.
If you have questions regarding custody conciliations or other custody matters, please contact Tanner Law Offices at (717) 731-8114 to set up a consultation with one of our attorneys.