Child Custody, Visitation & Relocation

Child Custody Trials Must Be Strictly Scheduled Within Mandates of Pa.R.C.P.

In the child custody modification case of James v. Lyles, PICS Case No. 14-1035, (C.P. Lawrence, June 17, 2014) the Honorable John W. Hodge ruled that because the court was unable to comply with the time limits in Pa.R.Civ.P.1915.4(c), it granted plaintiff’s motion to dismiss defendant’s petition for modification of a custody order.

Defendant Marlene R. Lyles filed a petition for modification of a custody order. Plaintiff Donald R. Jones, Sr., later moved to dismiss the petition pursuant to Pa.R.Civ.P.1915.4(c), which provides that trials and hearings shall be scheduled to be heard on consecutive days whenever possible but if not on consecutive days, then “the trial or hearing shall be concluded not later than 45 days from commencement.”

The court noted J.M. v. S.T., 885 WDA 2011 (Pa. Super. 2012), which considered Rule 1915.4(b) and concluded that it did not give a trial court discretion in continuing custody trials and maintaining its docket and that custody trials had to be strictly scheduled within the limits set forth in the rules.

The court noted that although Rule 1915.4(b) was modified after J.M. to give the court more discretion in scheduling and continuing custody cases, Rule 1915.4(c) had not been so modified. Therefore, because it had been unable to complete the trial in this matter within 45 days due to uncontested continuance requested by the parties, the court held that it had to comply with the time limits in Rule 1915.4(c) and it dismissed defendant’s petition.

The court noted that the case established precedent to scrutinize future requests for continuances in all custody cases and implement stronger standards, despite legitimate requests from counsel.

Reference: Digest of Recent Opinions, Pennsylvania Law Weekly 37 PLW 637 (July 8, 2014)

Filed Under: Child Custody; Family Law: Modification of Child Custody Order

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