While divorcing parents may claim to want what is best for their children, they don't always agree. Legal intervention may be needed to determine who gets custody. In Philadelphia, there are specific procedures that should be followed to file for custody. Not following the process can cause you to lose your children, so exercise extreme caution, making sure that you follow each legal requirement to the letter.
Gather all previous documentation about your marriage, divorce and custody arrangements. This can include protective orders, prior legal agreements and identifying information about the other parent and your children.
Visit the Intake Unit of Philadelphia Family Court to pick up the appropriate petition forms. The office is located at 34 S. 11th St. in Philadelphia.
Fill out and file all the necessary custody petitions. These can be found at http://www.courts.phila.gov/forms/ There are 15 different forms pertaining to custody. The basic form is the Complaint for Custody/Partial Custody/Visitation. You will not likely need all the forms; ask the court clerk to clarify which forms pertain to your specific situation. If you fear for your child's safety, fill out the Petition for Emergency Relief or Petition for Expedited Relief granting emergency custody and an expedited hearing.
Pay the filing fee of $70.80. An additional $38.80 is required to request emergency status. If you are unable to pay the fee, request an In Forma Pauperis petition; additional documentation will be required.
Wait for your notice to appear to be delivered in the mail. This will give you your court date.
Meet with a master of the court to determine if you will be participating in mediation, conference or a full court hearing.
Give all testimony and documentation to the master to assist him in making a decision that is in the best interest of your child. Any agreements and decisions made under the direction of the master will be filed with the court and become binding.
Proceed to the court hearing if no agreement or compromise is reached with the assistance of the master.
Prepare your testimony, evidence and questions before going to your Philadelphia child custody hearing. This can include paperwork already filed, photographs and medical and school records. Bring three copies of each item that you will be presenting to the court.
Obtain a subpoena form for all witnesses who will be testifying in your behalf. These forms are available at the office at 34 S. 11th St. Witnesses will not be allowed into the Philadelphia courtroom without this documentation.
Appear on your court date and await the judge's decision on your child custody case.
- Mediation is optional. Couples can reach their own custody agreement without court intervention if they desire. A lawyer may be necessary to make this legally binding. If you do not agree with the decision of the master or the judge, you can file an exception, a request for reconsideration or an appeal with the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.
- Prior convictions and drug or alcohol abuse can lead to the court finding that your guardianship is not in the best interest of your child.