Appeals to the Pennsylvania Superior Court and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court can delay the final disposition of a matter for well over a year or more beyond a trial court’s decision. While the effect of such a delay upon economic determinations can be dealt with through readjusting financial awards, the effect upon children can have significant, long term implications, particularly where custody of a child is transferred from one parent/guardian to another.
In an effort to expedite appeals involving children, effective March 16, 2009, the Pennsylvania Superior Court will implement new appellate rules governing custody, adoption, termination of parental rights, paternity, and dependency cases. The new rules will be known as the Children’s Fast Track (CFT). Although support cases will not be affected by the new rules, it will be within the discretion of the Superior Court’s Central Legal Staff to submit some limited support matters to the CFT.
The new rules are the result of the Superior Court’s efforts to eliminate unnecessary delay in the appellate process for cases involving children and provide an even more expedited process than the current Family Fast Track procedures. The new rules will only apply to those appeals filed after the effective date. Cases already pending will proceed under the existing Family Fast Track.
Filing deadlines have been significantly decreased or eliminated. Under the new rules, the concise statement of errors complained of on appeal must be filed simultaneously with the Notice of Appeal. The Notice must state that it is a Children’s Fast Track Appeal. Practitioners are no longer required to wait for the trial court judge to issue a 1925(b) order requiring the filing of the statement.
In order to allow the trial court to file its opinion sooner, the trial court no longer is required to cite to the transcript, or set forth a detailed opinion. The trial court is expected simply to set forth its reasons for the decision.
Any dispositive motions must be filed within 10 days of the opinion, or the filing of the 1925(b) statement of errors complained of on appeal, whichever occurs later. All brief covers and petitions for allowance of appeal must have the proper CFT designation if the case qualifies. Opting out of the CFT designation is not possible.
The brief scheduling is abbreviated. Instead of 40 days, appellant has 30 days to file a brief. Appellee now has only 21 days, not 30; and, the reply brief must be filed within 7 days, shortened from the previous 14 day time period.
Additional changes are incorporated into the Rules that are not specifically reference in this article. A copy of the full text of the new rules is available www.courts.state.pa.us.