Outline of Basic Pennsylvania Family Law Procedure in Allegheny County
Mutual Consent Divorce:
Plaintiff files a Divorce Complaint with the Court and a copy is served upon the Defendant.
- During the next 90 days, the parties may negotiate about various items, such as custody, support, alimony, debts, and assets. The parties can sign a written Marital Settlement Agreement, which the Judge can adopt Order of Court.
- After 90 days have passed since the Defendant was served with a copy of the Divorce Complaint, both parties may sign an Affidavit consenting to the Divorce and other necessary documents.
- The documents are presented to the judge, who can sign the Divorce Decree.
Custody, Partial Custody and Visitation:
- If the parties reach an agreement without any litigation, the terms of their agreement can be written down and adopted as an Order of Court by a Judge. Otherwise, one party, the “Plaintiff” files a Custody Complaint with the Court, and the Court orders the parties and children ages 6 to 15 years to attend a four hour Education Seminar (Generations) on a Saturday or a Wednesday evening.
- A copy of the Custody Complaint and Court Order is served upon the Defendant.
- If the parties cannot settle the matter after attending the Education Seminar, they are ordered to attend Mediation. (Victims of domestic violence can ask to be excused from mediation.)
- If the parties reach an agreement during Mediation, they can have their attorneys prepare a written Custody Agreement, which the Judge can adopt as an Order of Court.
- If the parties cannot reach an agreement during Mediation, the Court can schedule a Custody Conciliation before a Custody Conciliator, who will encourage the parties to settle the matter. If they can reach an agreement, the Conciliator prepares a Consent Order for the parties and a Judge to sign.
- If parties agree on who should have primary physical custody, but cannot agree on the amount of partial custody, a short hearing will be scheduled before a Judge, who can issue a Final Custody Order.
- If the parties do not agree at the Custody Conciliation as to who should have primary physical custody, the Court can order the parties to undergo a psychological evaluation and a home study.
- After the evaluation and study is completed, the Court can schedule a Conciliation Conference in front of a Judge. If the Judge cannot work out a settlement, a custody trial is scheduled, and after the trial, the Judge issues a Final Custody Order.
- Final Custody Orders can be changed if both parties agree or if the Judge decides that a modification is in the best interest of the child.
- The Plaintiff files a Petition for Support at Domestic Relations.
- Domestic Relations schedules a conference, subpoenas the earnings records of the parties, and notifies both parties of the conference date.
- At the Support Conference, the Conference Officer encourages the parties to settle the matter, and if they can reach an agreement, the Conference Officer prepares a Consent Order for the parties and a Judge to sign.
- If the parties cannot reach an agreement, the parties must appear before a Hearing Officer, usually the same day. The Hearing Officer hears testimony and makes a Recommendation to the Judge.
- The Judge signs an Interim Order based upon the Hearing Officer’s Recommendation.
- The Interim Order becomes a Final Order unless one of the parties files Exceptions.
- If Exceptions are timely filed, a Hearing will be scheduled in front of a Judge.
- After the Hearing on the Exceptions, the Judge will issue a Final Support Order.
- Final Support Orders can be changed if circumstances change.