Custody Conciliation Conferences in Pennsylvania

Most Pennsylvania counties require parents in custody cases to attend a conciliation conference (called a custody master's hearing in Philadelphia County) early in the litigation process.

At conciliation, a conference officer will help you and the other parent explore options to avoid trial, much like a mediator.

If you reach a full agreement, the officer will write it up as a proposed final order, which the court is likely to approve. If you don't reach an agreement, you'll prepare for trial.

In some counties, parents who have already agreed on a parenting plan can turn it in at conciliation. Statewide, parents with an agreed-upon parenting plan can turn it in to the prothonotary or clerk of court and skip conciliation. Both options launch the settlement process.

Conciliation procedures vary slightly, so check your county's rules.

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Preparing for your conference

The conference officer will ask a number of questions to get familiar with your case. Anticipate questions about:

  • Your employment status
  • If unemployed, how you're supporting the child
  • Your living arrangements
  • The type of legal and physical custody you're seeking
  • Anything related to the child's best interests

You may bring documents to help the officer understand your position. Nothing you bring will be introduced as evidence, so you aren't restricted by evidence rules. Tailor the information to the disputes in your case. You may bring:

Scheduling and timing

The conference typically occurs at least 45 days after you open a case. The date can change if both parents agree to reschedule. The conference is scheduled for an hour but can last longer if the officer believes the parties can settle.

People at conciliation

Conferences are closed to the public, and you cannot bring witnesses.

A conference officer, parents and their lawyers (if applicable) attend. Some counties allow parents with a history of domestic violence between them to appear before the officer separately.

Whether your child can attend depends on your county. For example:

  • Allegheny County: Children cannot attend.
  • Chester County: Children 10 or older may attend if parents file a written request at least 10 days before the conference.
  • Philadelphia County: Children may attend if parents file a written request for the custody master to interview the child at least 20 days before the conference.
  • Westmoreland County: All children in the case must attend, unless parents agree otherwise.


Conferences take place in an office or hearing room within the courthouse. Parents, with their lawyers, sit at separate tables in front of the conference officer's desk. If present, the child sits outside the room. You may bring an adult to sit with the child.

The conference officer questions each parent and reviews related documents, including memos or reports from mediation.

If the child is present, the officer interviews them to better understand which custody arrangement will serve their best interests. When this happens, parents must leave the room. Lawyers often choose to leave so the child feels comfortable speaking. The interview is not transcribed.

Then, the parties see if they can reach a settlement. Each one can propose multiple parenting plans and schedules.

Parents with domestic violence issues cannot settle at conciliation. They just provide case information so the conciliator can determine a recommendation.

If you don't reach a full agreement

When parents don't reach a full agreement in their conciliation conference, they need a temporary order to guide their parenting until they receive a final order. Parents can either agree on a temporary order or let the officer recommend one to the court.

In either case, the officer may also recommend that the court:

Judges almost always approve recommendations from conference officers.

To move toward trial, either parent can request a pre-trial conference. In Westmoreland and some other counties, a recommendation that becomes a temporary order ultimately converts to a final order if neither parent files a request within 30 days of conciliation.

The pre-trial conference is typically held within 120 days of conciliation, but the wait may be longer in large counties.

Tips for conferences

  • Dress like you're going to a job interview (no t-shirts, shorts, flip flops or ripped clothing).
  • Arrive early.
  • Treat everyone with kindness and respect.
  • Do not talk out of turn.
  • Focus on what's best for your child.
  • Speak clearly, and stay on topic.
  • Show the court why your custody arrangement is best, not why the other parent's isn't.
  • Avoid getting overly emotional.
  • Voice any concerns you have about your child's well-being.
  • Keep an open mind when considering a settlement.

Using technology for your conference

What you should prepare for a conciliation conference depends on the disputes in your case. But one thing remains constant: You need meticulous organization.

With a parenting plan template, custody calendars, parenting-to-parent messaging and more — all in one place — the Custody X Change app makes sure you're prepared and structured.

Take advantage of custody technology to get what's best for your child.

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