Custody Dilemmas During the Coronavirus Pandemic

In the course of the past few days, we have all been presented with unforeseen challenges as a result of the COVID-19 virus. If you currently have a custody order in place or are going through a custody battle, you might be experiencing parenting issues stemming from the coronavirus outbreak, the recent school closures and work from home mandates.

Typically, custody orders identify specific days and times during which each parent is entitled to custodial time with their child(ren). However, during the current coronavirus pandemic, it is possible that custody exchanges cannot take place because of a restriction ordered by the government. In the event of a quarantine or isolation situation, parents should confirm that the government restrictions truly prevent custodial exchange from taking place before the parent declines to release the child(ren) to the other parent.

On the other hand, if a parent thinks the other parent is risking the safety of the child(ren) such as transferring them to high-risk places or exposing them to the virus, the concerned parent should consult with an attorney to discuss available remedies that might include a filing of an Emergency Petition in Custody. Despite the courts’ closures to the public, most Pennsylvania Courts of Common Pleas, including Bucks County Court, remain open for emergency matters which includes an Emergency Petition for Child Custody.

More complicated issues might arise if the custody order calls for supervised custody. If the previously approved supervisor is not available or inaccessible, the parents should determine if a feasible alternative is available and/or advisable. If the parents can not agree, reach out to your attorney for guidance.

It is imperative to keep in mind during this time of crisis, both parents should work amicably to decide what is best for the child(ren). Parents should communicate with each other, especially if a parent thinks he/she has been exposed to coronavirus.  Parents should use common sense in determining what is in the best interest of the children while remaining in compliance with their court order.

Due to the fact that such circumstances resulting from the coronavirus are unusual, there are currently no clear guidelines on how courts might handle such situations. It would be possible that the parent losing custodial time would be entitled to some makeup time with the children as soon as circumstances allow. However, the best interest of the child(ren) remains the standard.

In an abundance of caution, each parent should ensure that he/she remains in compliance with their custody order. If compliance is truly impossible, a parent should inform the other parent timely and preferably let his/her attorney know. If the parents have a custody order/stipulation in place, it is always advisable, and in some orders/stipulations required, that any changes/modifications, even temporary, to said orders/stipulations be memorialized in writing.

Parents are reminded to always read the court order and do what it says as long as it is feasible.  The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and WHO (World Health Organization) continue to update their guidelines and recommendation as well, which may be useful in determining the feasibility of custody terms during this pandemic. When courts reopen, the non-violating parent might file for contempt at which time a judge will make a determination on whether a parent deliberately withheld the child(ren) or whether it was necessary under the circumstances. A finding of contempt has severe consequences.

AMM family law attorneys can guide you through all of your custody and family law matters. Contact our family lawyers for a confidential discussion.