Child Custody

Custody is a person's legal right to care, control, guard, and keep a minor child.  Biological parents have custody rights automatically, but a custody order by a court can change those custody rights.  For example, a custody order might define the amount of time someone may spend with a child or who gets to make major decision about the child.  The court may award legal custody to someone who is not a parent, such as a grandparent.

PLA assists clients with custody cases in Philadelphia Family Court.  In most cases, we help clients represent themselves in custody cases, but in special cases we will go to court for a custody client.

How to get help with Child Custody

The following departments at PLA provide legal assistance with Child Custody:

Intake Procedure:

Call the Family Law Intake Line at 215.981.3838 on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday between the hours of 09:30 a.m. and 12:00 p.m.  Callers are not able to leave a message.  The Family Law Intake Line may be closed early if call volume is high.

We recommend calling at least three weeks before your court date before a Master and at least six weeks before your hearing before a Judge.

PLA's Family Law Intake Line does not accept applications for assistance with divorce, child support, or spousal support.

Assistance for immigrant women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault is available from PLA's Immigrant Women's Legal Assistance Hotline, which assists callers with legal problems including divorce, custody, child/spousal support, protection from abuse, and immigration.  Speakers of languages other than English and Spanish may leave a message with the Immigrant Women's Legal Assistance Hotline by calling 215.981.3838 at any time.

Applicants may also apply online.

Self-Help Resources

Child Custody Exchanges and Filings During Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Filing for Emergency Custody Petitions During COVID19: Update for 07/15/2020

The Family Law Unit at Philadelphia Legal Assistance is OPEN during the pandemic. 

Call our Family Law Hotline at 215-981-3838 for help.

Monday - Thursday, 9:30 A.M. - 12:00 P.M.

Planning for Custody and Care of Children: an Informational Guide for Immigrant Families

This guide is intended to give basic information under Pennsylvania law about custody of children and how to plan for and or deal with a change in circumstances due to a parent’s sudden or expected absence or inability to care for her/his children.  Available in Spanish.

Family Law Resource List

This is a list of organizations that provide assistance with family law cases.

Resources at the Philadelphia Family Court Help Center

The Family Court Help Center is a room in the Philadelphia Family Court where people with family court cases can receive free legal information from knowledgable volunteers.

This guide explains the services available at the Help Center.

Family Law for Teen Parents

A 54-page guide and an on-line quiz for teen parents about their rights and responsibilities when it comes to paternity, child custody, child support, protection from abuse, and emancipation.

Representing Yourself in Custody Court: One Parent’s Experiences

This 13-minute video discusses what it is like to represent yourself in a custody case. Produced by the University of Pennsylvania Law School with assistance from attorneys at PLA.

Preparing for a Custody Hearing

This video explains what happens at a child custody hearing, describes the "best interest of the child" standard, and gives you tips on how to obtain the custody order you want. Developed by Philadelphia Legal Assistance as part of its Make Your Case video series.

Factors Relevant to Custody Decisions

This 20-minute video discusses the factors that Family Court considers when making decisions in custody cases. Produced by the University of Pennsylvania Law School with assistance from attorneys at PLA.

The Best Interests of the Child

This guide contains a list of the sixteen factors that make up the "best interests of the child" standard under Pennsylvania law.

Criminal Convictions and Child Custody

This guide contains a list of the types of criminal convictions that the court must consider when making a decision about child custody.

Court Forms Available From the First Judicial District

See the First Judicial District's court forms page for PDF court forms for use in custody, support, and protection from abuse cases.

Custody Mediation Program, Philadelphia Family Court

Custody mediation is an informal voluntary process in which the parents or primary caregivers talk together with a trained mediator to make decisions about caring for the children and parenting schedules.

This brochure explains the Custody Mediation Program of the Philadelphia Family Court.

Child Custody in Philadelphia County

This brochure explains what custody is and how to file for it in Philadelphia.

Family law self-help resources from Women's Law Project

The Women's Law Project offers a variety of self-help materials in the area of Family Law.

Family law resources from offers self-help forms and information on a variety of family law topics, including document assembly interviews that allow you to create legal documents on-line.  Some of the document assembly interviews were developed by PLA.


Leslie Allen - Attorney

Leslie Allen is a Supervising Attorney of the Family Law Unit.

Emilia Golanska - Attorney

Emilia Golanska is a Managing Attorney at PLA.

Deeya Haldar - Attorney

Deeya Haldar is currently on leave from Philadelphia Legal Assistance.  She is teaching a civil litigation clinic at Villanova Law School.

Susan Pearlstein - Attorney

Susan Pearlstein is the Senior Attorney, Violence Prevention and Policy Strategist at PLA.

Gabriela Rodriguez - Attorney

Gabriela Rodriguez is a Supervising Attorney of the Family Law Unit.


Diane Rosario - Paralegal

Senior Paralegal

Angela Ruan - Attorney
Arly Smith-Pearson - Attorney

Arly Smith-Pearson is the supervisor of the Drexel Civil Litigation Field Clinic.

Lawrence Szmulowicz - Attorney