In the case of A.L.B. v. M.D.L., the Pennsylvania Superior Court recently determined that the Berks County Court of Common Pleas did not make a mistake by denying the father’s request to reschedule a custody hearing. This case provides a lesson about acting promptly in custody actions – and for that matter, in all court actions.
In this case, the mother had a psychologist perform a custody evaluation. In December 2018, the evaluating psychologist determined that the father was alienating the children from the mother. The court scheduled a custody hearing in July 2019 and instructed the evaluating psychologist to provide an updated report, which he did approximately one week prior to the first day of the hearing. The psychologist’s updated report recommended that the mother have primary physical custody of the children.
On the first day of the hearing, the father requested that the court reschedule the hearing so he could find an expert to perform a separate custody evaluation, in hopes of countering the recommendations made by the mother’s expert. The court refused to reschedule the hearing, noting that the father had many months of notice that the mother’s expert was recommending limitations on his custodial time. Although the mother’s expert updated his report a week before the hearing, this update was merely an addition to his original report and was not an unanticipated surprise to the father.
The lesson – Act promptly. Do not sit on your hands and expect the court to accommodate you. I do not have all the facts from this case and did not represent either party. I only know what was included in the Superior Court’s opinion. But I know from the Superior Court’s opinion that in a custody action, it’s a really bad idea to request that a court hearing be rescheduled on the first day of testimony so that you can find an expert to perform an evaluation, when you have known about the other side’s expert for at least eight months, you’ve had the other expert’s report for at least seven months and you knew approximately three months prior to the hearing that the judge instructed the other party’s expert to provide an updated report.
If you need documents through discovery, an expert evaluation or some other information to support your case, make sure you get it in advance of the hearing. At least start the process in advance of the hearing. I believe that if the father in this case had retained an expert a few months before the hearing, when the judge ordered the mother’s expert to update his report, and the father’s expert needed more time to complete the evaluation, the judge probably would have granted his request to reschedule the hearing. That’s a guess on my part, but I think it’s a reasonable guess.
If you live or work in the central Pennsylvania area, including Harrisburg, Carlisle, Mechanicsburg, Hershey and surrounding communities and would like to discuss custody concerns or any other family law or estate planning or administration issue, please contact me.