If a custody case is not scheduled for trial within 6 months of the complaint, or praecipe of a party, it will be dismissed. Dietrich v. Dietrich, 923 A.2d 467 (Pa. Super. 2007).

As family law practitioners, we are often waiting long periods of time for our custody cases to be listed for trial. When asked by clients when we think the trial will occur, we can only guess. In some situations, the time delay may help a litigant; in other situations, its may severely hurt.

Recognizing the timing issue, in 2000 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court adopted Pa.R.C.P. 1915.4, which requires scheduling of a custody trial within 180 days of the filing of the Complaint or Praecipe of a party. Initially, although courts were cognizant of the scheduling pressure place upon them, this Rule received little fanfare.

However, based upon the recent ruling in Dietrich, and the strict interpretation of the Rule by our Superior Court, this Rule can now be used as a weapon for dismissing a custody action. For example, if representing the party who is satisfied with the status quo, the practitioner may not be in a rush to trial.  Conversely, if representing the party seeking modification or an initial order, practitioners must be mindful of trial scheduling to avoid dismissal of their case.

Whether used as a sword or a shield, family lawyers must be aware of the implications Pa.R.C.P. 1915.4 can have on their custody case in light of the Dietrich decision.