CHILD CUSTODY DURING THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC
Governor Tom Wolf issued a Stay At Home order on March 23, 2020 for many counties in Pennsylvania, including Allegheny County. It is only a matter of time before the entire state will be ordered to stay at home as well. If you have a custody order of court that provides for shared or partial custody between you and the other parent, there are 4 crucial things you need to know.
Child custody exchanges when you are supposed to “Stay at Home”
On March 24, 2020, Judge Clark, the president judge of Allegheny County, issued an order providing that all custody orders entered before the judicial emergency was declared as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are to remain in full force and effect. Governor Wolf’s office has also confirmed that his Stay at Home order does not prohibit travel necessary to effectuate a custody order.
This means that despite the Stay at Home order, you must continue to follow your custody schedule as ordered. You are permitted to take the children to the other parent’s house and vise versa, meet at exchange locations, etc. The Stay at Home order does NOT permit you to withhold custody of the children from the other parent. Whatever you were doing before COVID-19, keep doing it!
Child custody exchange time confusion
A lot of child custody orders state that that the child custody exchange is to occur before or after school, i.e. “The children are with Mother after school until Wednesday before school and with Father from Wednesday after school until Thursday before school.” When are you supposed to exchange custody of the children when school is closed, and you are now WFH or not working at all?
First, look at your custody order – does it have a catchall exchange time for days when there is no school? If so, follow that. If it doesn’t, what do you normally do during the summer when there is no school or when there is a random day off from school? If there is a status quo for how you handled these issues pre-COVID-19, then follow that. Courts love the status quo- follow the status quo!
If a status quo has never been established, it’s been my experience that judges tend to lean towards a morning exchange time when it addressing these kinds of disputes.
Emergency child custody situations
The courts are closed, but procedures have been put in place to handle child custody emergencies. Most custody disagreements (such as exchange times) are not emergencies. Things like kidnapping and child abuse are emergencies. If you think you have an emergency or are not sure, contact us and we will discuss it with you.
Courts are closed now, but they will reopen soon
You’ve heard the saying to be careful what you put in writing, because the writing could end up before a judge one day. The same is true for your behavior during the COVID-19 crisis. One day soon the courts are going to reopen, and judges are going to pay attention to how parents behaved during this pandemic. Don’t use the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse to withhold child custody from the other parent. Do your best to cooperate with each other and coparent for the sake of the children. Follow your custody order!
As more information becomes available to us, we will pass it on to you. If you have questions about your custody order or other family law matter, visit our website for information on how we are staying in touch with our clients during the COVID-19 pandemic.