The purpose of a custody conciliation conference is, if possible, to reach an agreement regarding custody without going to a hearing before a judge. If you don’t reach an overall agreement, it may still be possible to narrow down the points of disagreement before having a hearing. The conference is most frequently held at the county courthouse, in a conference room instead of a courtroom. The physical arrangements vary depending on the county.
You, the other party, your attorneys and the custody conciliator will be the only people present in the conference room. Any other family members, spouses, etc. must wait outside. The custody conciliator is an attorney who contracts with the court to meet with parents to help them reach agreements, if possible. You, the other party and the attorneys will have a chance to discuss custody of your children. The conference is focused solely on custody, not divorce or support. The custody conciliator will ask questions and make suggestions about possible solutions to conflicts.
There is no court reporter present for the conference and no formal record made. The custody conciliator relies on his or her notes. The conferences are generally scheduled for an hour, which can go very quickly. If you reach an agreement at the conference, the custody conciliator prepares a court order with the agreed terms. A judge signs the court order and everybody gets copies. If you don’t reach an agreement, the custody conciliator can recommend an interim custody order, which will go into effect until you have a hearing before a judge. Either way, the custody conciliator prepares a written summary of the conference and submits it to the judge.
Custody conciliation conferences are intended to help people reach agreements without going to a court hearing, but they are still very stressful and there can be a lot of conflict. Not as stressful as a court hearing before a judge, but much more stressful than having a conversation around the coffee table in your living room. You should be prepared for the conference. Think about what you believe is best for your children and why. Think about possible custody situations that you think would work best. Above all, make notes and bring those notes with you to the conference. You have a very short amount of time, so use it wisely. Don’t rely on your memory.
Last but not least, expect that your time actually meeting with the custody conciliator may be limited to a few minutes. Some custody conciliators prefer to meet with the attorneys, discuss the situation, have the attorneys meet with their respective clients, then the attorneys speak with the custody conciliator again, etc., until you’ve hopefully reached an agreement. In that situation, you may meet briefly with the custody conciliator to confirm that you agree with the proposed terms.
If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Harrisburg, Carlisle, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss custody conciliation conferences or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.