How to Get a Custody Order in Erie County
If you need to consult with an attorney or would like more information on custody orders, please contact the Erie County Bar Association's Lawyer Referral & Information Service.
When parents separate, they must determine the appropriate custody arrangements for their children. It is not essential that the parties immediately proceed through the Court system and, in fact, many parents establish custody arrangements for their children based upon informal agreements.
However, if the parties cannot agree on the appropriate custody arrangement or, if they want the Court to enter an Order regarding custody of their children, the first step is to file a custody complaint with the Family Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Erie County. The custody complaint can either be filed by an attorney or individually. The rules are very specific about what information must be in a Custody Complaint.
In Erie County, if the parties have children under the age of 18, both parents must attend a four-hour seminar called "Children Cope with Divorce, Custody, and/or Visitation". The seminar is held at Family Services, 5100 Peach Street, Erie, Pennsylvania. Some of the program's objectives include exploring the experiences of separation and divorce from the child's perspective, sharing specific skills parents can use to support a child's adjustment and suggestions on how to avoid placing the child in a no-win situation with the parents. Attendance at the seminar is mandatory if you are involved in a custody proceeding or a divorce proceeding where your children with your spouse are minors.
Once the custody complaint has been drafted, it must be submitted along with four copies to the Office of Custody Conciliation which is located in the basement of the Erie County Court House. The office is open from 8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. Monday - Friday, but is closed from noon until 1:00 p.m. Complaints are not accepted after 4:00 p.m. The Custody Conciliation website at www.eriecountypa.gov has a custody brochure and forms available to assist in the preparation of the Custody Complaint and other related documents.
The Custody Office will schedule a conciliation conference, usually within 45 days after the date the Complaint is filed.
Once the conciliation conference has been scheduled, the original and copies must be taken to the Prothonotary's Office which is on the first floor of the Court House. The Prothonotary will keep the original custody complaint. There is a filing fee. The other party must be served soon after they are filed. One copy must be sent to the other party by certified mail, restricted delivery, and one copy by regular mail. In addition, service can be by Sheriff or Constable. Proof of Service must be filed with the Prothonotary's office.
At the conciliation conference, no evidence or testimony is presented and the children are not interviewed. The conciliation is an opportunity for both parents to discuss what they believe is in the best interest of the children. Areas of agreement and disagreement are identified and discussed. If both parties are in agreement, a custody agreement will be formalized into an Order of Court and signed by the Family Court Judge. If the parties cannot reach an agreement on custody matters at the conciliation, then the matter will be referred to a Family Court Judge or a Custody Hearing Officer for a formal hearing and decision.
The parties have an opportunity at the conciliation to agree to all terms of a custody order or temporary or partial terms pending a formal hearing. The objective of the conciliation conference is to foster agreement between the parties in such a way that they are committed to a custody arrangement which will be entered as an Order of Court.
Information is current as of 2/2019.