Settling Child Custody in Pennsylvania: 3 Steps

Parents tend to know what's best for their children. For this reason, legal professionals recommend parents settle rather than leave custody decisions to the court in a trial.

Settling means parents develop a parenting plan together and submit it to the court for approval. (Parents can also opt not to submit their plan, but they won't get a court order that ensures legal consequences for violations.)

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Prepare My Settlement Now

For help agreeing on parenting plan terms, you might try an alternative dispute resolution method, such as mediation. You'll also get to negotiate at your conciliation conference and pre-trial conference.

Once parents negotiate a plan successfully, they follow these steps to file a settlement, with minor variation by county. You can settle anytime during a custody case.

An attorney or legal aid society can guide you through the process and ensure your documents cover all the bases.

Step 1: Draft your parenting plan

You need a parenting plan, including a custody schedule, to settle a case.

You may use any format, such as the Custody X Change template. Some counties offer templates that cover standard terms, like Lebanon County's template. You can add parenting provisions to make a plan reflect your family's unique needs.

Sign your plan in front of a notary with the other parent, then make two copies.

Possible: Open a case

If you haven't yet, complete the paperwork to file a custody case now.

You can skip the Notice to Defend and Scheduling Order. Each parent must complete a Criminal Record/Abuse History Verification Form.

Step 2: Turn in your documents

You have two ways to submit your parenting plan for review. If you're just opening a case or have already attended conciliation, use Option A. Otherwise, choose either option. (With Option B, you avoid the filing fee.)

Option A: Turn in your plan to the prothonotary or clerk

Head to the court where your case is active. If you don't have a case open, go to the court of common pleas in the county your child has lived in for the past six months (or since birth if they're less than 6 months old). If they moved within the past six months, go to the court in their previous county.

Hand all of your paperwork (including the parenting plan and any copies) to the prothonotary or, in Philadelphia and Delaware counties, to the clerk of court.

The prothonotary or clerk will time-stamp your forms and return the copies to you. You'll have to pay a filing fee between $57 and $300 if you're opening a case. You may pay less if you already have a case active.

Option B: Hand in your plan at conciliation

You'll have a conciliation conference about 45 days after opening your case. Show your parenting plan to the conference officer there.

As long as the plan serves your child's best interests, the officer will give approval. This makes the judge more likely to finalize your plan in the next step.

Step 3: Get the judge's approval

The staff member who accepted your parenting plan in Step 2 will forward it to the judge.

Judges only approve plans that are in the best interest of the child. They're less likely to approve if either parent has a history of crime, violence or substance abuse.

If the judge signs off, your plan becomes a final order, and the court mails you a copy.

If the judge doesn't approve your plan, you can pursue another agreement that addresses the judge's concerns. Otherwise, you'll continue through the litigation process to arrive at a trial.

After you've settled

The custody journey continues after you receive a final order. Now your responsibilities include:

To do all of this and more, use Custody X Change.

The online app's customizable calendars, parent-to-parent messaging, expense tracker and parenting plan template will make life after settlement as straightforward as they made settlement itself.

Visualize your schedule. Get a written parenting plan. Calculate your parenting time.

Prepare My Settlement Now

Explore examples of common schedules

Explore common schedules

Join the 60,000+ other parents who have used our co-parenting tools

Organize your evidence

Track your expenses, journal what happens, and record actual time. Print organized, professional documents.

Co-parent civilly

Our parent-to-parent messaging system, which detects hostile language, lets you collaborate without the drama.

Get an accurate child support order

Child support is based on parenting time or overnights in most jurisdictions. Calculate time instead of estimating.

Succeed by negotiating

Explore options together with visual calendars and detailed parenting plans. Present alternatives and reach agreement.

Never forget an exchange or activity

Get push notifications and email reminders, sync with other calendar apps and share with the other parent.

Save up to $50,000 by avoiding court

Write your parenting agreement without lawyers. Our templates walk you through each step.

Prepare My Settlement

Bring calm to co‑parenting. Agree on a schedule and plan. Be prepared with everything documented.

Prepare My Settlement Now

No thanks, I don't need a parenting plan