A number of changes to the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure regarding custody took place this summer. One change, Rule 1915.4-4, provides the opportunity for a pre-trial conference in a custody matter. Either party may request the conference by written request in the form of a praecipe. Alternatively, the court can schedule one on its own motion. The timing of the pre-trial conference is after the parties have made their initial appearance at a custody conference but prior to the hearing scheduled before a Judge. The Rule provides the pre-trial conference should be scheduled at least 30 days prior to the start of a custody hearing. The Judge will preside over the pre-trial conference in chambers if both parties are represented.
At least 5 days prior to the pre-trial conference, each party must submit a statement to the court as well as the opposing party. The statement must include the name and address of all anticipated witnesses, including expert witnesses, along with their relationship to either of the parties, if any. The statement should also include a proposed custody order setting forth the schedule sought. Finally, all exhibits and/or reports that may be referenced in a hearing must be served on the opposing party but not submitted to the court. The goal of the pre-trial conference is to narrow and/or resolve any issues remaining for trial and encourage settlement of the case. At the conclusion of the conference, the court will enter an order outlining any agreements reached and limiting the issues for trial to those not already resolved. Hopefully this new procedure will be useful and reduce the likelihood of unnecessarily contentious custody battles in open court.