Custody Orders in PA: Types, Modification, Enforcement

A court order is a ruling issued by a judge. There are several types of custody orders, all of which legally mandate how a child must be cared for.

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Emergency orders

You may apply for an emergency order if your child's health, safety or welfare is at immediate risk. Emergency orders lay out temporary custody arrangements and may also include protection orders (restraining orders) for you and your child.

To begin proceedings, you or your attorney must file a petition for emergency custody or ask the conference officer at your conciliation conference to schedule an emergency hearing. Some counties have specific petitions:

Within a few days — or within hours, in very urgent situations — you'll have a hearing where you can testify about the emergency issue.

The hearing will be ex parte, meaning the other parent will not attend.

If the judge deems it necessary, he or she will grant an emergency custody order and schedule another hearing.

At the second hearing, the judge will hear from both parents and decide whether to overturn the emergency order, amend it or let it stand until the case has a final order.

Temporary orders

Temporary custody orders (also called interim custody orders) dictate who has custody and pays child support throughout the litigation process. They remain in effect until a judge modifies them or issues a final order.

If parents can't agree on a temporary order during conciliation, the conference officer recommends one to the court, and the parties must follow it until the court rules otherwise. In some counties, the recommended temporary order becomes a final order if neither parent files an objection or requests a pre-trial conference within 30 days of its issuance.

Parents in Philadelphia County can request an expedited hearing to get a temporary order faster than usual. This is meant for families who have non-emergency issues that still need quick attention.

Final orders

A final order is a court ruling that lasts until one of the following occurs:

  • The child involved turns 18.
  • The child is emancipated (legally declared independent of their parents).
  • The parents reach an alternate agreement.

A final order replaces any temporary custody orders that were in place.

The order will specify details of legal and physical custody, usually in the form of a parenting plan. While judges can word orders for physical custody generally, they usually specify a custody schedule.

Final orders can be reached in two ways.

Preferably, the parties reach a settlement, and the judge signs off to finalize it.

Alternatively, the judge makes a ruling based on evidence presented at trial. If a parent has reason to contest the judge's decision, they can file an appeal (following Children's Fast Track appeal rules) and begin the legal process again.

Modifying a final order

You can modify a final custody order at any time. You may want to modify yours if:

  • Your child is in a dangerous situation.
  • Your child is having difficulty adjusting at home or school.
  • Your job makes it difficult to care for your child.
  • Your child requires different care as they age.
  • You want to relocate.

Parents can develop a new parenting plan together and submit it to the court for approval, or one parent can petition for modification. Any proposed change must be in the best interest of the child.

Enforcing a final order

You should follow your custody order to the letter (except when you and the other parent agree on slight deviations).

Disobeying an order can result in loss of custodial rights and other penalties. Common violations include canceling visits without notice and blocking the child's communication with the other parent.

If the other parent in your case doesn't follow the court order, you should keep detailed records of the violations. You can use your Custody X Change journal or actual parenting time tracker.

For serious or repeat violations, contact the police or file for civil contempt with the court. If you think your situation calls for a contempt case, speak to an attorney.

Staying in compliance with court orders

The legal wording in court orders can be hard to comprehend, and orders for physical custody can be particularly difficult to decipher. When exactly does "Week 2" begin this month? Which day is considered the middle of winter break?

Use Custody X Change to transform your order into a calendar you can edit and print, so you'll never have to wonder whether you're staying in compliance.

With the Custody X Change app, you can combine custody schedules for the school year, summer break and holidays into one calendar. Making changes is easy — just click and drag.

Take advantage of our technology so you never have to wonder if you're interpreting the court's order correctly.

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