Pennsylvania Family Court


What should a parent do when the other parent abuses a child in Pennsylvania? According to the video from North Pennsylvania Legal Services, they’re not supposed to call the police. They’re supposed to file a custody lawsuit instead – but only if they can’t tolerate the child abuse. 

For real live parents in this situation, just sitting to watch this video is a lesson in patience. Piano music plays in the background and respectable looking judges and court employees offer no comfort to anyone who knows their abused child needs protection, not litigation.  

At the beginning of the “workshop”,  a court employee or legal case worker of some kind is speaking with an actress who plays a mother concerned for her family’s safety. The mother says her husband “started threatening to keep the kids” and is “beginning to scare” her. The worker responds in earnest, “You may need to file a custody lawsuit.”

Notice the worker doesn’t recommend calling a women’s shelter or the police.  Instead, she tells the mother she should file a custody lawsuit. The narrator recommends a lawsuit too and adds – only if you can’t tolerate what’s happening.

The narrator continues, 

“Only you can decide if the current custody arrangements involving your child are tolerable. Here are a number of questions to help you decide:

  • Has the other parent threatened to snatch the child and disappear or kept the child from you?
  • Refused to permit reasonable visitation or refused to return the child after a visit?
  • Made unreasonable visitation demands or placed unreasonable restrictions on your visits?  
  • Refused to answer reasonable questions about his or her care of the child or provide information about the child’s health, education or other activities?
  • Refused to provide a current address and phone number?
  • Physically, sexually or emotionally abused the child?
  • Put the child in an unsafe or unhealthy environment?
  • Failed to provide minimal adequate supervision and care?
  • Refused to discuss a workable custody plan?
  • Refused to cooperate for the child’s sake?

 If you can truthfully say that you and the child’s needs are not being met, then a custody or visitation lawsuit may be your best remedy.”

First of  all, who put “physical, sexual and emotional abuse” in the middle of a list of relatively much less dangerous circumstances such as “made unreasonable visitation demands” and “refused to discuss a workable custody plan”?

Why isn’t “physical, sexual and emotional abuse”, “threatening to snatch a child and disappear”, “putting the child in an unsafe or unhealthy environment” and “failure to provide minimal adequate supervision and care” on a separate list of the most dangerous scenarios needing immediate attention?   

Why aren’t those four more dangerous circumstances listed somewhere with the number for the Child Abuse Hotline? 

Since when have we defined “physical, sexual and emotional abuse” as “child’s needs not being met”?

The only extent to which the narrator shows concern for the well-being of children in Pennsylvania family courts is in offering a word of caution for the viewer who is tempted to ask friends, neighbors, family members and others for advice. She calls such advice “street law”, and urges parents to take all child abuse and custody cases to the County Courts in Pennsylvania instead. 

What’s wrong with child abuse cases being heard in Pennsylvania’s County Courts? For starters, the title of this video workshop could just as well be this: 

Your Child’s Abuse Case In Pennsylvania: Anything Goes!  

The workshop video continues. Judge Louise Knight from Union County says, “There are many reasons why you should try very hard to avoid what is called a ‘custody battle’ and try to reach an agreement with the other parent on matters of custody.”

She says the custody cases are very emotionally damaging to children and parents. She says in a custody “dispute”, you give up control of the outcome of your case. She says it’s a risky situation because you don’t have any input over what the outcome of the case will be. 

Not bothered yet by all of this? Imagine you’re a mother of a four-year old boy in Pennsylvania. You’ve seen your son’s father abuse him in unspeakable ways. You’re watching the video below and what do you learn? 

– There’s no uniform procedure for dealing with your child’s case in the state of Pennsylvania. 

– All ” family matters” are handled differently, depending on the preferences of each county.   

– Judge William H. Wiest warns, “Of course, no two custody cases are exactly alike and the law can change. There’s no certain way to predict how your case might be handled.”     

– Judge Louise Knight talks on and on about why you should avoid going to court altogether. She says you never know what will happen, you won’t have any say in what happens to your child(ren) and paying for a lawyer and a custody evaluator will probably cost more than you can afford.

– If your spouse has an attorney and you don’t, you’re out of luck. If you don’t have the funds for an attorney, the law provides no special exceptions for those representing themselves. The same rules of evidence apply to skilled attorneys and frazzled single mothers trying desperately to protect their children from abuse. The judge can’t help you defend your children in court and no one else can either.

For those considering a career in family law in Pennsylvania, it looks like street law has a more promising future. 


     North Penn Legal Services Custody and Visitation Video Workshop

6 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Family Court

  1. I am in Chester County have been in the family court system for 12 yrs being extorted financially and emotionally abused. This past September I put my children on the bus for school which would be the last time I saw or spoke to them. My children were acting strange a month prior to all of this but I couldn’t figure it out until the day they didn’t come home when they called their grandmother (my mother) in complete calm voices stating they were not coming home as I was abusive. I am not abusive I am heartbroken I am tired of being abused by my ex-husband and his mother and the family court system. I am tired of watching my children abused and manipulated their whole childhood ruined because of people that are mentally ill (diagnosed bipolar and anti-social PD). I left the man with the help of the DV Center and a PO never keeping the kids from him or his family. Only for him to constantly try his alienation campaigns this will be the 3rd one where I go periods from 9-18mos with no contact with my children along with anyone related to me. I get to hear him and my children say that I am a worthless POS and that I am hated by everyone and I should just die as I am a piece of trash that should have been discarded along time ago. To hear that I will never know or see anything in my childrens lives, I will never know my grandchildren as they will hate me and know what trash I am. This is accepted in Chester County Family Court and is considered to be in the best interest of the children. If I knew what I know now I would have stayed in my abusive marriage at least I would have my children its not like leaving allowed me to escape the abuse it actually got a little worst since now I have allowed my whole family to be abused instead of just me. When you see a 4yo little boy cry wanting to know what he dud why his cousin wont visit him anymore and promise to do anything if she comes back why or how does he deserve any of this from my ex-husband and his mother.And it will not get better once they become adults it is passed on from generation to generation my ex is 45yo and still hates his father believing every lie his mother told him. So now I get to see my children be the abusers of their spouses and children as I was unable to protect them and break the cycle thanks to the family court.

  2. I have had a case in Delaware County PA and they have done everything imaginable to side with one party. I have joint legal custody on paper ONLY. I am not allowed to have any information I am not allowed in public with my kids ( not because there is a court order that demands this) I have been made to jump through hoops ( such as not being in public with anyone) all in the name of ” respecting others wishes” . The more I did the more that was expected. I was threatened and told that if I did not allow people to verbally abuse me during therapy then there would be no more. Once everyone involves knows how Judge feels it pours down to the other people she assigns to the case. It is disgusting that I had to allow myself to be verbally abused and then when my father died I could not be at the luncheon if kids were going. So I think I am more angry with myself for letting people do this to me. It is not easy but there sure needs to be accountability. THERE IS NONE in this county.

  3. My son was literally taken from me by Lackawanna Family court and Judge Chester Harhut. Basically I applied for visitation a second time after the first request just vanished. I completed all that was requested of me. hair tests. classes, etc.etc. paid lawyers including Brenda kobal (GAL). My own attorney. Court costs. etc. etc. Within a month of re-filing for visitation I was put in jail for owing around 400 dollars in back support. I paid 528 a month for 11 years. This all happened when I had showed up for a custody hearing.I was cuffed. It was a surprise and in my opinion a sneak attack to avoid the custody hearing. I almost spent Christmas in jail. Fortunately I had a contempt hearing before Christmas and the siting judge immediately released me. The power of the GAL (Brenda Kobal) and enforcement officer (Susan Roche) pushed this all through in a matter of minutes. I didn’t stand a chance. Remember this is my interpretation on what happened. It is what happened. I was also told by my Ex wife’s attorney that I could avoid going to jail if I “signed away my parental rights now” Of Course I told her what I had thought about that offer. It got me immediately sent to LCP. This was all said in open court with everyone just going about their business. Now in short, while I was sitting in jail for a few days, I had received legal papers saying that I am being sued for parental rights. I attempted to get free legal counsel and that turned out to be a complete joke. Within a month and in less that 10 minutes in a courtroom I had lost my parental rights. I had no say in the matter. I knew it was a done deal as soon as I walked into the courtroom. It was that feeling you get in your gut when you just lost a loved one.I did not have an attorney and was tod by Judge Chester Harhut” That I had plenty of time to get an attorney. Like I had said earlier is was less than a month during holidays.I had payed support up until that day I was stripped of my right to my son.I was also told “good luck appealing it to the supreme court. I had no one in my corner and was basically helpless and screwed by Lackawanna Family court. I fear for anyone who has to deal with this corrupt organization. All I wanted was visitation and to be in my childs life. Remember all that I had done was submitted paperwork for a visitation hearing and within a month or so I no longer had parental rights.To me thats criminal. I understand I have to except what has been done to my child and myself. It was never about me. It was about a boy knowing his father. I know the feeling because my father was never around when I was younger but that was his choice. I just want this out there so others can hear my experience.If you don’t have thousands of dollars to spend or know anyone in family court be extremely careful on what you ask for. They will take it. From what I have heard Lackawanna Family Court has ruined countless families. God Bless if your dealing with any of this now.

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