Recently, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania provided some helpful clarification for custody litigants. The case, R.L.P. v. R.F.M., involved a custody order which was delivered orally by a Judge sitting in Montgomery County. This means that the Judge explained the Custody Order on the record and subsequently let the transcript of the hearing serve as the order. The Superior Court’s opinion clarified that all custody orders have to be delivered in a separate, written order.
This is important for several reasons. Custody Orders are frequently complex, and rightly so. Parties should walk away from a custody trial with no confusion as to how they are going to co-parent their children. In R.L.P. v. R.F.M, the transcript of the trial (which subsequently became the order) was 46 pages long, and included corrections and confusions. The Superior Court noted that when an order is confusing or contradictory, it is significantly harder to enforce.
When a Judge explains the intricacies of a Custody Order in the courtroom, oftentimes it becomes difficult to then enforce that order. In this case, the Superior Court noted that in order to understand the terms of the order, one had to read the transcript several times. A separate, written order gives both parties a tangible document to look to for guidance if a disagreement regarding the children presents itself. A Custody Order delivered orally on the record is just one example of a very dangerous phenomenon in family law: vague orders.