Custody & COVID-19July 15, 2020
There is no doubt that the Covid–19 pandemic has (for better or worse) impacted all areas of our lives. As a family law practitioner, an immediate impact was felt in the custody arena. The first wave of issues surrounded the question of whether the “stay at home” order meant that custody exchanges should not occur. Essentially – should the children remain in the home where they were when the order was entered. This was a rather short-lived issue, since the Court was quick to say that the exchanges fell within essential travel and were to occur as the order in place dictated. Focus then turned to the appropriateness of the activities each parent permitted the children to engage in. Were play dates ok? Were visits to grandparents or other family members permissible? These cases had to be dealt with by the Courts on a case by case basis, but at this point, the appropriateness of behaviors in respective households have been resolved. But now four plus months into the pandemic, we are faced with new custodial issues. Just a few that come to my mind are the following:
- In the initial phase of the pandemic, many Parents agreed to modifications to the custodial arrangements that had been in place at the onset of the problem. But, as we move into the next phase of the pandemic, Parents will begin to consider whether it is time to move back to the custodial arrangement that was in place at the time prior to the pandemic. Hopefully, adjustments to the schedule will be agreed to by the Parents but, if not, the appropriateness of the schedules should be addressed before they become the status quo making it more difficult to revert to the “old” schedule. Remember the Custody Order controls until it is modified.
- Another factor that has to be considered by Parents is what the schedule will be if the children return full time to school or if they continue remote learning. At the onset of the pandemic, remote learning was thrust on many, if not most Parents. We still are not sure what the new school year will look like and we may not know until closer to mid to late August. It is clear that different school districts may have different approaches to what education will look like. Parents who live in different school districts need to consider which district program will work best for their children and modify custodial schedules accordingly.
- Again, at the onset of the pandemic, some Parents may have moved out of the area to locations that they felt were “safer”. These moves no doubt impacted on existing custodial arrangements. Keep in mind that many of these out of area moves constitute a “relocation” under the Pennsylvania custody statute and have very specific notification requirements. So, while the arrangement may have been agreed to initially, if it becomes apparent that a conflict is going to develop, it may be important that the relocation requirements are satisfied.
Try to plan ahead; anticipate problems; and, resolve them before they get out of control. There is enough uncertainty in everyone’s life as Covid-19 continues to impact our lives. Custody issues should not exacerbate the problems.