Peter Russo – Divorce FAQs

1. Can the Coronavirus Affect Custodial Rights? How Divorces and Parenting Time May Be Impacted


It is expected that COVID-19 will disrupt normal parenting plans for divorced parents. For the foreseeable future, travel will be restricted and public meetup places may be closed due to the lockdown. Generally, this may disrupt some plans but any virus related restrictions imposed by the state do not have an impact on current orders for custody. Parents are still expected to follow their custody orders and exchange custody as they normally would, unless the court determines otherwise. For example,in some counties like Blair County, the rights may be affected as there is ajudicialshelter in place order directing that children subject of custody orders remain in the care of their primary custodian. For full information and legal advice as to what applies in your county, please contact a family law attorney.

2. How to Co-Parent During the Coronavirus Pandemic?


Co-parenting during this pandemic would require a lot of agreement and concessions to be made. Despite the inconveniences, parental rights and responsibilities must be exercised in compliance with the custodial order and the applicable shelter in place regulations. Should there however be the need for an emergency filing, you can contact a family law attorney. Technological tools like FaceTime and Zoom may also be adapted to facilitate social interaction with a physically distanced parent while the stay at home order subsists. Primary custodians in counties where the judicial order restricting custodial exchanges apply are encouraged to adopt these measures to facilitate communication with non-custodial parents.

3. Can I Expect Divorce Rates to Rise After Coronavirus?


Spending more time together due to the shelter in place order tendsto make and to break relationships. Early signs suggest that the aftermath of the virus would bring with it a spike in divorce cases. In some provinces in China, where the outbreak first began, a 25% increase in divorce rates was reported. Frustration, lack of space, and forced confinement are some of the factors lending credence to the educated guess that there may be a rise in divorce rates after the virus. Also, delayed and unprocessed requests due to the lockdown may contribute to the spike in the post-pandemic period.

4. Can I Proceed With Divorce if a Stay at Home Order is in Effect?


Simply speaking, yes. Most divorces do not require an appearance in court and so long as the filing offices remain open, you can proceed with the divorce. Some divorce actions could be affected by the limited availability of courts, especially if you require a hearing. If you are looking to initiate a fresh case, we would urge you to consider the timing of your case carefully. Pennsylvania courts are only open tocarry out certain essential functions, and determining whether a divorce matter should be scheduled during this timedepends largely on the facts of your case. It remains unclear whether courts would be open to divorce hearings so you are better off contacting your attorney for further information on your rights and options.

5. Should my Custody Order be Temporarily Adjusted during the Coronavirus Pandemic?


The child’s wellbeing and the position of law are your top priorities when making any decision relating to the custody order. Under Pennsylvania laws, temporary adjustments can be made informally when there is a change of circumstances. However, such informal adjustments must be memorialized as Modified Agreed Custody Orders for future enforcement by the court. If the other parent objects to this proposed adjustment, you may apply to the court for an alteration. Speak with your attorney for further information on how to go about this.

6. Will I be Able to Meet With my Divorce Attorney During the Coronavirus Pandemic?


Yes, you will. Physical meetings may be impossible due to the executive stay at home order issued by the Pennsylvania Governor mandating the shutdown of businesses that are not life-sustaining including law firms. While that order has been challenged and relaxed to allow the limited opening of law firms, safety concerns may necessitate resorting to alternatives. We encourage virtual meetings and communications through telephone calls, mail correspondences, and video conferencing. Many Pennsylvania Law firms now have live chat features through which you can communicate.

7. Facing Child Custody Concerns During the Coronavirus Pandemic


Safety concerns and government restrictions may occasion a great deal of inconvenience on divorced parents. Despite the stay at home order, court orders including custodial orders continue to take effect so it behooves on the parents to comply in the face of these challenges. Facilitating communication and strengthening ongoing interactions with the minor is very important in this period. For much of the other decisions regarding the child, parents should consider the best interests of the child while taking appropriate safety caution and exercising common sense.

8. How Can I Keep My Child Safer With a Co-Parent in the Medical Field During COVID-19?


Keeping communication lines open is very important for the successful navigation of child custody during COVID-19. If you have concerns about a co-parent on the frontlines of the fight against the Virus, you should initiate a conversation with them about the risks involved and the interest of the child. You cannot unilaterally withhold the child as that would amount to a violation of the court order and may render you liable for contempt of court. If the co-parent appears to be unresponsive or unwilling to concede, you should speak to a family law attorney to file an emergency petition asking for the court’s intervention.

9. Does a Lockdown or Stay-At-Home Order Affect My Custody/Possession Schedule?


No. Generally, custodial orders and schedules continue to take effect irrespective of the shelter in place executive order in force with Pennsylvania. However, some minor details may be affected by necessitating a need for adjustment of the custody/possession schedule. For example, if previous exchange points or visitation meets were scheduled to hold at the child’s school or a park, it may be impossible to comply in the face of the lockdown. In such situations, alternatives have to be agreed upon and alterations may have to be made.

10. What If the Other Parent Is in Another State? Can I Still Exercise Time With the Kids?


Dealing with possession schedule across state lines is a nebulous situation as a couple of factors have to be considered. The legal limits of the stay at home order in different states being the chief consideration. Generally speaking, orders of court including custodial orders remain in force, and co-parents must comply. However, in some red-alert states and counties, a strict restriction is being enforced to preclude custody exchange. Also for safety reasons, you may have to reconsider having your minor travel by flight. We recommend the adoption of virtual communication to facilitate interaction with the minor until the threat of the virus subsides.