4/5/2020 0 Comments
Custody During COVID-19
The United States, like most of the world, is in a state of flux. Courts are closed, except for emergency hearings. Attorneys are mostly working from home. Meetings are being held by phone and video conferencing. The main goal is for everyone to stay HEALTHY. However, life still goes on. What happens when the world around you is shutting down, but your family is still dealing with custody issues?
The shutting down of the economy, courts included, came swiftly. Governors ordered stay-at-home orders for residents and Supreme Courts entered Orders for all courts to effectively close to the public. Here in Washington County, the Court of Common Pleas was (and remains) closed to the public, with only minimal staff allowed inside the courthouse. Attorneys have a drop box and have been advised to email certain judges' staffs with question/motions/emergencies/etc. The Prothonotary has utilized online filing, which was previously not active in Washington County. But what if you have a custody schedule and the other parent is refusing to allow your child to come to you during your custodial time? That is the million dollar question.
Normally, parents will have a written custody Order signed by the Judge. The parents must follow that Order, and if they do not, then the parent who has been denied custody may file a Petition for Contempt with the Court. But what if the Court is closed, as it is now? Each county has been dealing with this issue independently. In Washington County, family law judge, Judge Brandon Nueman, was closed for nearly a month for regular motions. Judge Neuman would review emergency motions prepared by parties/counsel and decide if he believed they were a true emergency. If it was deemed a true emergency, Judge Neuman would schedule a telephone hearing regarding the emergency situation. If it was not deemed an emergency, then the parties were out of luck. This left many parents in a state of limbo, with attorneys running out of options.
However, after the first week of courts being closed except for emergencies, many counties made a public statement that custody exchanges were considered "Essential" and children should be following their normal custody schedule from one parent to another as long as no one in the household was sick of exhibiting symptoms.
UPDATE: As of Monday, April 6, 2020, Judge Neuman (family law judge in Washington County) will begin to accept regular family law motions via email and attorneys should be available from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. on motions court days by telephone to present their argument.
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