As per PA Rule of Civil Procedure 1915.3 a custody action is commenced with the filing of a complaint for custody or with the filing of an action of divorce, which includes a count for custody. So long as all proper procedure has been followed, a conciliation conference will be scheduled, usually within four to six weeks of the filing date. At the conciliation conference, which is held at the Clarion County Court House, the parties and their counsel meet and try to reach an agreement with regard to custody and visitation. It is expected that counsel and the parties will put forth a good faith effort to reach an agreement. If an agreement is reached, Court staff is usually available to prepare a consent order, which is signed by the parties, their attorneys and the Judge. If no agreement can be reached, the case generally moves on to mediation.
If there is no rule or law that prevents the court from ordering mediation, the parties sign an Eligibility for Mediation form and the case is scheduled for mediation, which is generally held before a psychologist. Mediations are held at the Clarion County Court House, usually on Mondays. Each party will also receive a mediation questionnaire which they are to complete and submit to the mediator within ten days.
Each party must pay the $200 mediation fee no later than seven days prior to the scheduled mediation. If a party cannot afford the $200 fee, they may complete an informa pauperis petition. Please note that, if the mediation is continued or cancelled less than seven days before the scheduled date, the fee is not refundable. Additionally, mediations lasting longer than three hours may incur additional expense to the parties.
The mediation is attended by the parties, their child(ren) and counsel. Upon completion of the child's participation in the mediation process (generally by the end of the first hour), they may be excused and the custodial parent should have someone available to attend to them or take them home. Child care services are not provided.
The mediator will work with the parties to come to an agreement. If they are able to reach an agreement, an order will be entered. If they cannot reach an agreement, the mediator will issue a report to the judge which describes the disagreement. If no agreement is reached, a Pre Trial Conference will be scheduled before the judge. Counsel or self represented litigants are required to file a Pre Trial Statement seven days prior to the scheduled Pre Trial. The Pre Trial Statement shall include a statement of the factual and legal issues and citations to legal authority, and an explanation of the party's plan or proposal for resolution of all the issues, including a specific schedule of times and places and conditions of partial custody or visitation. If a resolution can be reached at the Pre Trial Conference an order will be entered by the court. If no resolution can be reached, a custody hearing will be scheduled.
General Information for Self Represented Litigants in Custody Actions
If you wish to file a custody action in Clarion County without the assistance of counsel, here are some things you need to be aware of. This is not a complete list – if you are going to act as your own attorney you will have to familiarize yourself with Pennsylvania law regarding custody as well as educating yourself about the process in Clarion County. Neither the Prothonotary and staff nor court staff can give you legal advice. Some of the information you will need can be found on the Court's page of the Clarion County website.
Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure 1915.1 through 1915.24 deal with Actions for Custody, Partial Custody and Visitation of Minor Children. You will need to be familiar with these Rules if you plan to represent yourself.
In addition to the Rules of Civil Procedure, you will need to familiarize yourself with the law which the court must apply in deciding child custody disputes. The law is published in Purdon's Pennsylvania Statutes at 23 Pa.C.S.A., Section 5322 through Section 5340. Of particular importance are Section 5328 - "Factors to consider when awarding custody", Section 5331 - "Parenting plan", and Section 5337 - "Relocation". This information is available at: https://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/LI/Public/cons_index.cfm
When you file a document, you must make service on the other party. The Pennsylvania Rules regarding service can be found at Pa. Rule of Civil Procedure 440 and 1930.4. Rule 1930.4 deals with original process, or the first filing in a matter, while Rule 440 deals with service of all papers other than original process. Certificates of Service that you can print off and fill out can be found at the above listed state website.
Please be sure to file a Pro Se Entry Appearance (the form can be found of the website) at the commencement of the action and any time there are changes in the information you have provided.
Every custody complaint or petition for modification must include a Criminal or Abuse History Verification (see Rule 1915.3-2). The form can be found at the above listed state website.
When you file an original custody complaint please bring no fewer than three copies with you. You will need to serve two copies on the defendant and you will want to keep at least one copy for yourself. The original will be filed in the Prothonotary's Office.
At the time you file your custody complaint, please be prepared to pay the filing fee. Cash or money order is preferred. The Prothonotary's Fee schedule can be found on the Clarion County Website.
You will find it useful to review the Clarion County Local Rules of Civil Procedure for those rules regarding custody actions in Clarion County, specifically Local Rules 1915.3, 1940.3 and 1940.5.
Websites of Interest to the Self Represented Litigant in a Custody Action
This is the Unified Judicial System of Pennsylvania website. This specific link will take you to the information for those considering representing themselves in custody actions. A great deal if information, plus link to County website and many forms are available here.
This site has information on civil legal issues, including custody. The opportunity to input your information and have a complaint or motion printed out is available on this website.
This site has the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes (laws)
From here you can access the Pennsylvania Rules of Court, find links to County Courts and many other sites of importance.