How Do Quarantines Affect Custody Agreements?

going-bob-Lancaster-County-PennsylvaniaBy Robert M. Going, Jr., Lancaster Child Custody Attorney

These are strange times that we’re living in, and the recent shift in world events has changed every aspect of our lives. As a Lancaster custody attorney, I’m hearing from many past and current child custody clients asking if health concerns and quarantining should impact their existing child custody agreement.

How is Your Custody Agreement Affected by the COVID-19 Changes?

First of all, as a Lancaster custody attorney, it’s important for me to tell parents that an executive “stay home” order does not change any existing parent-child contract orders that may be in effect.

Currently, Pennsylvania custody courts are in a judicial emergency. That means that many courts are temporarily closed. While only courts deemed “emergency” are now in session, parents can continue to use their lawyers to help them draft temporary changes in an existing arrangement. Pennsylvania courts are not needed to create changes in a custody agreement as long as both parents agree to those changes. To protect yourself and your agreements, I recommend that my clients record these changes in the agreement by creating and signing legal documents. As a Lancaster custody attorney, I can ensure these documents are clear, detailed, and legally valid. However, if the parents cannot agree on changes, they must stick to the existing agreement until custody courts reconvene.

PLEASE NOTE: Pennsylvania emergency courts are still in session. Even during this crisis, is still possible to apply for emergency custody for cases in which the child is endangered.

Should You Change Your Custody Agreement at This Time?

When thinking about any changes to a child’s custody agreement, it’s always wise to put the child’s needs first. While it may be tempting to use current events as a rationale for “getting your way,” it’s important to remember that arguing is stressful for any child, in any situation. No matter which kinds of changes parents wish to implement, the first rule is to put emotion aside and think about the situation dispassionately, with the child’s best interests in mind.

As a Lancaster custody attorney, I advise clients that if the changes under consideration will make the child happier, healthier, and more adjusted over the long term, they may be worth pursuing. However, if when evaluating any new arrangement, a parent realizes that the changes will benefit the parent more than the child, take some time to reconsider them.

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Lancaster Custody Attorney Notes That Remote Education Makes Longer Custody Windows Possible

As a Lancaster custody attorney, I understand that for parents with school-aged children, containing the spread of viruses is a real concern. Additionally, the shift to remote-education has been a life-altering one for many families. We now have our children with us all day long every day. For some, that is a blessing. For others, it makes it harder to get their remote work completed. Instead of spending mornings and evenings with children, many parents have them all day, every day, without the breaks that used to be provided by day camps, play dates or classes.

This extended time with children makes some parents more willing to share custody in different proportions. At this time, it may make sense for some parents to take on the majority of child-care while others reduce their time. For others, it makes it easier to do a 50/50 split.

For parents with shared custody who are concerned about spreading viruses, we sometimes recommend reducing the number of hand-offs. This can be done by increasing the sequential days that each parent spends with the child, while keeping the overall split the same. For example, instead of switching every two days, they may want to switch every two weeks. If they have a child Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday, they may want to switch to having them Saturday, Sunday, and Monday.

For some children, longer custody windows allow them more time to settle in with each parent, which can reduce anxiety. For other children, changes in established schedules can be stressful and increase anxiety. The best answer for your family depends on your child and your situation. For parents who want to explore their options, contact a Lancaster custody attorney.

Consider the Impact of Changes Over a Four-Month Timeline

While it’s unlikely that COVID-19 will still be going strong in four months, most children in Pennsylvania and across the country will be engaged with remote learning through the end of the school year.

This extended time without outside school commitments changes the custody consideration set for many parents. Instead of keeping a child physically close to school through May so that they can participate in sports or extracurricular activities, the child is now more mobile and can “go to school” at either parent’s home. For some families, that means that the dialogue on custody agreements reopens.

As a Lancaster custody attorney, I advise my clients to remember that it’s likely to be school as usual in the fall. Because so many things are still uncertain, parents should be flexible, keep their child’s interests and preferences in mind, and remember that they are responsible for providing the calming, steady influence that can reduce a child’s fear in an otherwise anxiety-ridden world.

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Lancaster Custody Attorney Advises “Don’t Use a World Crisis to Get What You Want”

While big changes in events may necessitate changes to your custody agreement, don’t use the situation as an excuse to get your way.

Instead of thinking of events as a vehicle that can help you get the upper hand in a custody case, make sure you consider the fear you bring into your child’s life when you use health threats as a reason to keep them with you.

Accept Travel Limitations and Load up on Video Chatting

Some of the toughest limitations to accept are those on travel that brings you and your children together. However, state and regional quarantines may make it unwise, or even illegal, to travel to see your children at this time.

If this is your situation, talk about increasing time spent on video chats for the parent who cannot travel. Not only will more video chat time help parents feel connected to their children, it will also reassure the children that their parent is safe, even if they live in a part of the country that is experiencing more dramatic health issues.

Every Family is Different. Email Your Questions to a Lancaster Custody Attorney 

While this article is meant to provide general guidance for handling custody agreements in a changing world, every family is different, and every child has specific needs.

If you are not sure if your current custody agreement works in this new world, please email me at rmg@goingandplank.com. Although our offices are closed to the public to comply with state mandates, we are still working normal work hours. I will reply to your inquiry promptly or set up a call to discuss your situation.

Remember, we’re all in this together. I am here to discuss your options, listen to your ideas, and offer our best legal advice. I look forward to hearing from you.

Want to learn more about child custody? Check out these articles.

How to Reduce Stress for Child Custody Proceedings

A List of Common Custody Agreements

The ABCs of Child Care in Pennsylvania

5 Tips for a Better Custody Agreement

Changes in PA’s Grandparents’ Rights Laws

6 Tips to Get a Better Custody Agreement

The Child Custody Checklist

6 Reasons to Consider Getting Custody of a Grandchild

Common Mistakes Parents Make in Custody Proceedings

Maggie Vergenes

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