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 Separation Agreement, which the Judge can adopt as an 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 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.