Custody Orders in PA: Types, Modification, Enforcement

A court order is a ruling made by a judge. There are several types of custody orders, all of which legally mandate how a child must be cared for. The following is information on emergency orders, temporary orders and final orders.

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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 for you and your child.

To begin proceedings, you or your attorney must file a motion or 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, in very urgent situations, within hours — 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 or let it stand until the case has a final order.

Temporary orders

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

If parents cannot agree on a temporary order during conciliation, the conference officer submits a recommended order, which the parties must follow until the court rules otherwise. In some counties, the recommended order becomes the 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 (meaning the parent is legally declared to have no responsibility for the child)
  • 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, which can be different for each child in a family. While judges can word orders for physical custody generally, they usually specify a custody schedule.

Final orders can be reached in two ways.

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

Alternatively, the judge will make a ruling based on evidence presented at trial. If a parent has reason to contest the judge's decision, they can appeal to a higher court (following Children's Fact 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 your order 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.

To modify a final order, 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 unless you and the other parent agree on different accommodations. Imposing changes without permission can result in loss of custodial rights. Common violations include canceling visits without notice or blocking the child's communication with the other parent.

If the other parent doesn't follow orders issued by a court, you should keep detailed records of the violations. You can use your Custody X Change journal or actual parenting time tracker to do this.

For serious or repeat violations, you can contact the police or file for contempt with the court. If you think your situation calls for a contempt of court case, speak to an attorney; these are typically criminal proceedings.

Staying in compliance with court orders

When a court issues orders, it's essential you follow them. If you don't, you can be brought back to court and found to be in contempt.

Orders for physical custody and visitation 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 possession schedules for the school year, summer break and holidays into one master calendar. Making changes is easy; just click a time block and type in your updates.

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

Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.

Make My Pennsylvania Plan Now

Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.

Make My Plan

Custody X Change is software that creates professional parenting plan documents and parenting schedules.

Make My Pennsylvania Plan Now

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