How to File for Full Child Custody in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania
By Claire Gillespie
Updated July 30, 2018
If you want custody of your child in Lancaster County, you have to make an application to the Prothonotary's office, which involves filing a custody complaint. If you and the other parent are not in agreement about custody, the court will schedule a hearing in order make a final judgment.
Child Custody in Lancaster PA
There is no such thing as filing for full custody in Pennsylvania. There are only two types of custody: legal custody and physical custody. Legal custody is the right and responsibility to make healthcare, educational and other welfare decisions for the children of the marriage. This is usually shared, meaning both parents participate in making these decisions.
Physical custody concerns where the child lives and with whom. This can also be shared, meaning the child spends 50 percent of their overnights with each parent. Alternatively, one parent can be the primary custodial parent, and the other the partial custodial parent, meaning one parent spends more time with the child than the other parent.
Filing for Child Custody
File a Complaint in Custody against the other parent directly with Lancaster County's Prothonotary office, making your request for the sort of custody arrangement you want regarding legal and physical custody. The court will then schedule a custody conciliation conference, which normally takes place within four to six weeks following the date of filing. As of July 2018, the fee for filing a custody complaint with Lancaster County Prothonotary office is $167.75, and the fee for filing a custody complaint with a custody conciliation conference costs $261.25.
The court papers must also be served on the other parent, either by mail or by personal service, but not by you or a person related to you. You must file proof of service, called Affidavit of Service or Certificate of Service, with the court stating how the court papers were delivered to the other party.
At the custody conciliation conference, the parents with their lawyers, if they have retained them, and a court-appointed custody conciliation officer get together and try to agree on a custody schedule. It’s possible for the parents to reach an agreement at this point, which would be the end of the case. However, if they can’t agree, the custody conciliation officer will listen to both parents and draft a recommended order for the judge.
The parents may attend a follow-up conference a few months later for an update on the case. At that point, they may be able to reach an agreement. If not, the case will be set for a hearing in front of a judge. After considering all of the relevant facts of the case, the judge will make a custody ruling based on the best interests of the child.
Child Custody Factors
In awarding child custody, Pennsylvania courts base their decision on what is in the best interests of the child. The courts consider a number of factors relating to the child's physical, mental, emotional and developmental well-being. These may include location, parent-child and other family relationships, the parties' mental and physical health and the express wishes of the child.
Pennsylvania's child custody laws include a gender-neutrality provision to help ensure that each parent has equal custody rights to their child. Shared custody is favored by the court when both parents are deemed to be adequate caregivers.
- Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas: Rule 1915.5(b). Custody Conference Officer. Conferences. Procedure
- The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania: Complaint for Custody
- The Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania: Custody Proceedings
- Lancaster County Pennsylvania: Lancaster County Prothonotary Fee Bill
- Pennsylvania General Assembly: § 5328. Factors to Consider When Awarding Custody
- Pennsylvania General Assembly: Title 23 Chapter 53 Child Custody
- Read form instructions carefully. Be sure to fill in every blank; write "N/A" if something does not apply to your situation.
- If you have any questions about forms or procedures, contact the Office of the Prothonotary or the Court of Common Pleas.
- Take time to consider your decision to file for child custody. The effects of custody cases may be emotionally traumatic to parents and children, with results that are difficult to change.
- If you do not feel comfortable representing yourself, or do not understand court forms or procedure, meet with an experienced family law attorney to discuss your case.
Claire Gillespie writes about health, science, home and parenting. She has bylines on SELF, SheKnows, The Washington Post, Vice and more.