Bucks County Custody Cases – Entry of Appearance Rule Changes in PA

The divorce process in Pennsylvania, including Doylestown and Newtown, encompasses various sub-processes, all or some of which may be active at any given time.   The issues range from the divorce itself to equitable distribution of property tosupport (whether child, spousal, or both), etc.  One of the most complicated issues typically is custody of the minor children, and there have been some recent changes to the Rules of Civil Procedure governing custody actions in Pennsylvania.  The change that we are going to discuss in this posting is related to the significance of filing an Entry of Appearance with the Court.

When a party to any legal action has an attorney, that attorney has to file a written Entry of Appearance, if he or she wants to be recognized by the Court as the client’s attorney.  While this appears to be a relatively mundane task, having an Entry of Appearance on file with the Court is important for purposes of ensuring receipt of documents from the Court.  A proper Entry of Appearance must include an address to which all pleadings and other filings should be sent, so the Court and opposing counsel know the proper address for purposes of sending mail and effectuating proper service.

On the other hand, prior to the enactment of the new Rules, if either the Plaintiff or Defendant was to represent himself or herself without an attorney, also known as acting pro se, there was no requirement for him or her to file an Entry of Appearance in custody actions.  It was the responsibility of the opposing party to find a method of contact, which could cause significant delays, if a pro se party moved and did not notify anybody.  People easily could hinder a case in this manner, oftentimes by avoiding service.

New Entry of Appearance Rule in PA

Fortunately, a new Rule has gone into effect as of July 5, 2013.  Under the new Rule 1930.8, pro se parties are required to enter a written appearance, which must include an address at which they may be served “pleadings and other legal papers.”  Additionally, pro se parties now have a continuing obligation to keep this information current, which means that if a party moves during a pending custody action in Doylestown, Newtown and other parts of Pennsylvania, that individual is required to file an updated address with the Court, thereby ensuring that the matter can proceed without issue.  If a pro se party fails to provide a valid current address voluntarily, the opposing party can bring an Entry of Appearance form to a conference or hearing and require that it be filled out.  Thereafter, the opposing party could file it with the Court, even without the pro separty’s cooperation.

Some of you reading this may be concerned about situations where there is a Protection from Abuse Order in place, or where there are similar disconcerting circumstances, as disclosure of an address may not be preferable and even dangerous.  While there has been no case law on this issue as of yet, the indication seems to be that the address only has to be a location at which you agree to be served.  Therefore, a P.O. Box may be sufficient.

An additional change under new Rule 1930.8 pertains to an attorney’s withdrawal and a party’s substitute entrance pro se.  Prior to this year, an attorney could withdraw from a case only with the Court’s permission.  Under the new Rule, if a party wants to proceed pro se, he or she can do so by filing a written Entry of Appearance, while the attorney files a corresponding Withdrawal of Appearance.  This simplified process allows for the custody action in Bucks County and all other Pennsylvania counties to move forward without a loss of momentum, as the formal withdrawal process was rather cumbersome and lengthy in duration, leaving parties uncertain as to whom should be contacted at any given point in time.

Overall, these Rule changes should help communication a great detail and make service of important pleadings an easier task to accomplish.