In the unprecedented times we find ourselves in at the moment, many of our clients are asking us how they should handle child custody exchanges under Governor Wolf’s “stay in place” or “stay at home” mandate that was issued on March 23, 2020 for individuals and non-essential businesses. It is understandable that many parents are trying to balance the requirements of current custody orders with the health of their families, loved ones, and community members.
Currently, seven (7) counties are under the “stay at home” mandate to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 or Coronavirus: Chester, Montgomery, Bucks, Delaware, Monroe, Allegheny, and Philadelphia. The Governor’s Order set forth allowable activities and essential travel such as picking up food and medicine. But what about travel for exchanging custody?
Governor Wolf’s Order states allowable activities and essential travel INCLUDES “travel to care for … minors, dependents … ” and “travel required by law enforcement or court order.” For parents with existing custody orders that include shared physical custody, travel is most certainly included in the terms set forth in the Order. Therefore, travel required by your custody order to exchange minor children is deemed essential under the Order.
To be clear, the Governor’s Office of General Counsel has confirmed to the President Judges of Pennsylvania’s Judicial Districts, including the seven (7) counties identified above, that the Governor’s order does not prohibit necessary travel to effectuate existing custody orders.
The Chester County Family Court issued a statement on March 24th to practicing attorneys within the county which states as follows:
“It is the policy of the Chester County Family Court that existing custody orders which provide for custodial exchanges of children are to be complied with, absent true exigent or emergency circumstances. If the exchange is to occur in a public place that may create an elevated risk, the parties should consider exchanging at their respective residences (curbside, if necessary) or such other location as they may agree. If a party believes emergency circumstances exist which would justify temporary suspension of custodial exchanges, he/ she must prepare an Emergency Petition for Temporary Modification of the custody order, stating precisely the alleged exigent circumstances.”
Statement of Chester County Family Court dated March 24, 2020. It is important to take heed of these words issued directly from the President Judge of the Family Court division.
If you believe that your family situation qualifies as an emergency, feel free to reach out to the attorneys at Baer Romain & Ginty LLP for guidance. Stay safe and be well.