Each county in the Greater Philadelphia area has its own set of unique procedures and requirements. You need an attorney who can help you navigate the nuances effectively so that your case runs smoothly, no matter where it takes place.
As a firm that focuses on building family solutions, we at Previtera & Schimmel have spent time learning the local rules in the following counties, to provide the most experienced approach.
Below are some general facts and distinctions useful to consider when thinking about the timeline of your case.
Philadelphia County may have the most clogged docket, but it is unique in the sense that it gives parties the option to file a Petition for Expedited Relief in Custody or as it is commonly known “an Expedited.” This pleading signals to the court that you have an issue that just cannot wait until your scheduled court date, which is often months away. An Expedited gets you in front of a judge quickly. Many parties take advantage of this, for example, when there is no formal custody order in place and they seek immediate relief.
In Montgomery County, the local rules require that parties attend a mediation session and the co-parenting seminar prior to their case being scheduled for a conciliation before a custody master. Once completed, a conciliation conference is held where the issues are addressed with counsel (if retained), but not on the record. The conciliator can help facilitate an agreed order, or can take informal testimony in order to compile a report that then moves forward with the matter for a more formal hearing before a judge.
In Delaware County, cases are heard under the Family Law Division Hearing Officer System. Hearing Officers, or Masters, hear cases regarding equitable distribution, custody, support and protection from abuse. Once assigned, a hearing officer will see your case through in its entirety unless a ruling is appealed. When a matter is appealed, it is heard by a judge. Delaware County is different than some of the other counties in that it can hold multiple master’s hearings prior to a matter ever getting before a judge.
In Bucks County, they place a high value on their Court Conciliation & Evaluation Service (“CCES”) that a majority of custody cases pass through. The program is designed to take a multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach to a custody dispute. The judges in this county favor and often defer to the CCES evaluations and they can be a good way to “break the tie” between parents before the court.