Child Custody During Coronavirus
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the past few weeks have seen Governor Wolf issue temporary business closures and stay at home orders. For parents who live separately and share custody pursuant to a custody order, the Governor’s orders present many questions and issues. Should the children continue to go between our houses? Can we leave our house for custody exchanges? What happens if a business that serves as a neutral custody exchange location is closed? Should we continue supervised visitation if it will bring the children in contact with new locations and people? Do we follow the terms of the custody order?
In Bucks County, the courts have generally provided guidance that parents should continue to follow custody orders while using common sense and their best judgment in determining what is in the best interests of their children. This includes following CDC and Pennsylvania Department of Health guidelines and recommendations. Ideally parents are able to work together to resolve these issues, but there may be circumstances that cause parents to disagree on what is best for their children.
In instances in which the parents agree to modify the terms of a custody order, even temporarily, having that agreement in writing is important, and most custody orders require modifications to be in writing. This usually serves to avoid future problems, specifically one party later claiming that they did not agree.
Alternatively, parents may disagree as to whether the custody order can be safely followed. Typically, when that occurs that party files a modification petition with the court. However, during the coronavirus crisis the courts are mostly closed to the public, with the notable exception being emergency matters.
If one party decides to unilaterally stop following the terms of a custody order, the other parent’s only immediate recourse may be to file an emergency petition with the court. In that case, the court may schedule the matter on an emergency basis and any court proceedings will most likely be handled by telephone conference call. The other party may also file a petition for contempt that will most likely be addressed after the courts resume regular activities. In that case, the court could make a finding of contempt that could have harsh penalties.
Daniel M. Keane, Esquire, is a Shareholder with Clemons Richter & Reiss and he is available to discuss your custody matter with you. Determining whether the terms of your custody order can be safely followed, or whether you have grounds to file an emergency petition, are difficult decisions that are often fact specific. Having the guidance of an experienced family law attorney can be helpful in navigating complicated custody issues in these difficult times.
While our firm has closed our physical offices to visitors and the general public to join in the fight to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus, we remain hard at work and will continue to respond to mail, telephone calls, emails and voice mail messages. Dan can be reached at 215-348-1776 or email@example.com and if he is not immediately available to speak with you, he will respond as soon as possible.