4 Things Separated Parents Should Avoid During COVID-19
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, courthouses across all of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties are closed. However, this does not suspend a parent’s obligations under their custody agreements as courts may still get involved in the future. Here is some advice on four things to avoid during the pandemic so that you can stay out of trouble.
1. Do Not Keep the Child From the Other Parent
While you may not feel safe having your child switch between homes during a pandemic, this is what the court order says. That agreement is still valid during COVID-19. In fact, stay-at-home orders specifically state that transportation for custody arrangements takes precedence over the lockdown.
One parent cannot decide to keep the child if the other parent has a right to custodial time. This can lead to a contempt of court charge. It may even be enough for the court to grant a remote hearing and get involved. In other words, this is a serious matter that could result in punishment.
2. Do Not Make Unilateral Decisions
Co-parenting and shared custody agreements are still in effect, even if courts are closed and normal life is upended. No matter the national level of crisis, parents are still expected to work with each other to the extent mandated by the custody agreement.
Unless the agreement says otherwise, a parent cannot act to make a decision about the schedule or medical care for the child without input from the other parent. The COVID-19 crisis cannot be used as an excuse to upend the custody agreement. Make sure to follow the same procedures that you always would when making decisions on behalf of the children. While you may not be found in contempt of court today, there is the chance that this could happen when the other parent is finally able to get a hearing. If there are concerns, they should be discussed, but one parent does not get the sole right to make decisions.
3. Do Not Be Hostile
Everyone is under stress right now. However, the texts and emails that you send can always be admitted into a later court hearing as evidence used against you. A pattern of hostile communication can always be grounds for the court to amend the custody arrangement at a later date. That’s why a child custody attorney would advise a client to be civil no matter what.
Courts want to see a cooperative co-parenting relationship between the spouses. They do not want to see hostility in communications. Even if the courthouse is not open now, a judge will be able to see how the two parents dealt with each other during a time of crisis. Thus, this is the time to take the high road, even if the other parent has been uncivil to you first.
4. Do Not Take the Court’s Time Unless It’s Critical
Family law courts are going to be backed up for the foreseeable future. Courts are not holding in-person hearings right now due to COVID-19, and there is not a concrete answer as to when they will fully reopen. There are emergency matters that are being heard remotely.
However, you need to be careful with what you consider an emergency. Know that judges are backed up right now and only want to focus on matters that are absolutely vital. They may not want to take the time to deal with something that they do not consider to be a priority. Simple issues such as pickup times and who should provide transportation to after-school activities will not be considered matters of vital importance. Thus, you should use discretion in deciding what to file with the court right now.
If you need advice on the impacts of COVID-19 on your particular custodial situation, turn to a child custody attorney at the Law Office of Joanne Kleiner. We’re prepared to help you throughout the COVID-19 crisis and beyond after the lockdown is lifted. Call us today at (215) 886-1266 for your initial consultation at our office in Jenkintown.