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Child Custody and Visitation: Frequently Asked Questions

1.  When Should I file for Custody?

If you are the custodial parent (the child resides primarily with you), you should file for custody if:

1.   you are afraid that the other parent may take the child out of the area without your permission and not return;

2.   the other parent consistently does not pick the child up or return the child at the times that  were verbally agreed upon and you want a court order to be able to enforce those times;  and/or

3.   you need legal verification for school enrollment, health insurance benefits, Social Security

     or welfare benefits, etc.

           If you are the noncustodial parent, you should file for custody if:

1.   the custodial parent is withholding the child from you or is not giving you as much time as you would like to have;

2.   you want the child to live primarily with you; and or

3.   you are not having any input in the major decisions affecting the child such as educational,  medical or religious issues.

 

2.  Who may file for custody?

            A parent may file even if the child has never lived with him/her.  A third party (such as an aunt or grandparent) may file if the child has resided with that third party for a period of twelve (12) months and the third party has acted as a parent.   A third party wishing to seek custody or visitation should consult an attorney as the law is complex in that area. 

 

3.  Where do I file for custody/visitation?

           A custody/visitation complaint should be filed in the county where the child has resided for the last six (6) months.   In situations where that circumstance may not be easily determined, an attorney should be consulted.

 

4.  How do I file for custody/visitation?

           There are two ways you can go about filing for custody and/or visitation. 

1.   Obtain an Attorney:  An attorney can handle all the legal paperwork for you and can give you legal advice and answer any legal questions that you may have. 

 

2.   Self-Help Kits:  Are packets that are offered on our website that are prepared by North Penn Legal Services and are a way you can file for custody/visitation without the  help of an attorney.  The Self-Help Kits come with step-by-step  instructions on how to complete, file and serve the custody/visitation complaint.   

A.  To file for custody/visitation where the child has lived in Tioga County for six (6) months or more and you are initially starting the custody/visitation action and the other party to the matter will not agree regarding custody/visitation then you will want to complete the SELF-HELP CONTESTED CUSTODY/VISITATION KIT. 

 

B.  To file for custody/visitation where the child has lived in Tioga County for six (6) months or more and you and the other party are in agreement concerning  custody/visitation you will need to complete the SELF-HELP AGREEMENT (STIPULATION) KIT.

5.  How much does it cost to file for custody/visitation?

           The current fee (2014) for filing a custody/visitation complaint or a Stipulation is

$121.50.  This is the filing fee and is subject to change.  It is to be paid (by money order, cashiers check, personal check or cash) at the time that the custody complaint is filed at the Prothonotary’s Office on the first floor of the Tioga County Courthouse, which is the filing office for civil actions.  To check the filing fee for this matter you can contact the Tioga County Prothonotary’s Office at (570) 724-9281.

            If you fit the financial requirement for low income families, you can get the filing fee waived.  In order to do so you must prepare a PETITION TO PROCEED WITHOUT PAYMENT OF FEES AND COSTS, which you can obtain on this website in the beginning of the Self-Help Contested Custody/Visitation Kit or Self-Help Agreement Kit. 

 

6.  What happens after I file the complaint?

           The Court Administrator’s Office schedules a custody/visitation conciliation

conference.   The Court Administrator’s Office must schedule the conference no earlier than 20 days from the day the complaint is filed.    It is your responsibility, if you are using a Self-Help Kit, to make sure the other parent or party is given notice of the time and place of the conference.  Service of the Complaint must be made by either personal service or certified mail in accordance with Pa. R.C.P. 1930.4 (explained more thoroughly in the instructions to the Self-Help Kits.) 

 

7.  Do I have to bring anything to the conference?

           Yes.   You must bring to the conference the service Affidavit and the return receipt

card signed by the other party which shows that the complaint and order scheduling the conference was received by all other parties named in the caption.

 

NOTE:   WITHOUT PROOF OF SERVICE THE CONFERENCE MAY NOT BE HELD.

 

8.  Who runs the conciliation conference?

           The conference is conducted by an attorney who has been appointed by the court to act as a Custody Conference Officer (“CCO”).  His or her job is to help the parents or parties work out a custody/visitation schedule which is agreeable to all.   The conference officer cannot take sides, nor can he/she look at evidence you wish to present such as character references, letters from doctors or counselors, etc.  If no agreement can be made concerning custody/visitation during the conciliation conference the CCO has the right send the parties to mediation or have the Court Administrator’s Office schedule the matter in front of the President Judge.  The parties involved are each responsible for half of the Mediation fees if the CCO orders you to Mediation. 

 

THE CUSTODY CONFERENCE OFFICER MAY NOT BE CONTACTED BY ANY PARTY OR BY ANYONE ON A PARTY’S BEHALF OUTSIDE OF THE CONFERENCE FOR ANY REASON.

 

9.   How can I change an existing court order for custody and/or visitation?

            In order to change an existing court order already filed in Tioga County you must file a Petition for Modification of Custody/Visitation.  Our website offers a Self-Help Modification of Custody/Visitation Kit.  The filing, service and conference for the Petition are the same as for the Custody/Visitation Complaint mentioned above.  The filing fee for the Petition for Modification depends on if the fees were paid at the time of filing the initial Custody/Visitation Complaint.  If the fees were paid at the initial filing then there is no charge for the Petition for Modification.  However, if the initial filing fee was not paid then the filing fee is $121.50.  If you are unsure of whether you had paid the initial filing fee, please contact the Tioga County Prothonotary’s Office at (570) 724-9281.

 

10.   How can I change the jurisdiction of my existing court order for custody/visitation to Tioga County?

            If you have an existing court order from another county or state and you wish to transfer the order to Tioga County because the child has lived in Tioga County for six (6) months or more, you must file a Petition to Assume Jurisdiction.   Our website offers a SELF-HELP KIT FOR CHANGE OF JURISDICTION OF CUSTODY/VISITATION.  The instructions on how to file and serve the Petition for Change of Jurisdiction is further explained in the Self-Help Kit.

 

11.   How can I change the jurisdiction of my existing Tioga County court order for custody/visitation to another state?

            You will need to contact the county where you want the jurisdiction changed to see what they require.  Each county has their own local court rules, therefore, each county may operate differently concerning the custody/visitation procedures.


12.   What can I do if the existing custody/visitation order is not being followed by the other party?

            You can file a Petition for Contempt of Court requesting the President Judge of Tioga County to enforce your existing court order.  After filing said Petition the Court Administrator’s Office will schedule a contempt hearing with the President Judge.  Our website offers a SELF-HELP CONTEMPT OF COURT KIT.   Instructions on how to file and serve the Petition for Contempt is more thoroughly explained in the Self-Help Kit.  There is no fee to file a Petition for Contempt. 

 

13.   What can I do if I want an attorney to represent me but I cannot afford one?

            In most cases an attorney cannot be appointed in family law cases.   However, there are some circumstances that one can be appointed.  If the other party in the custody/visitation action is represented by an attorney and you cannot afford one you can contact North Penn Legal Services at 1-800-326-7436 to see if they can appoint an attorney for you.

            If custody of your child has been transferred by the Court to the Tioga County Family Services Agency you can contact the Tioga County Court Administrator’s Office at (570) 723-8380 to request an attorney.   In requesting an attorney either via North Penn Legal Services or obtaining a court appointed attorney through the Court you receive an attorney that is willing and available to take your case.  You cannot pick and choose your attorney if you are requesting one from the Court or North Penn Legal Services.  Once you obtain an appointed attorney you cannot request a different attorney.  If you wish to have a different attorney after you have one appointed you need to hire a private attorney