“My ex-wife is a nurse practitioner still seeing patients. I offered to keep our son, and she wouldn’t allow it. Anything I can do to have him with me to keep him safer?”
While I am presumably not licensed to practice law in your state and considering that I cannot give you legal advice, please do note that I can give some general observations on this issue based on the jurisdiction where I practice, Pennsylvania.
During this trying time caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are various unknowns for all involved. With many courts closing due to mandated business closures, shelter-in-place restrictions, and social distancing, confusion can be abound.
When there is a custody dispute between parents during this unfortunate situation, many judges and jurisdictions first are suggesting that the existing custody order or custody agreement, if you have one, still should generally be followed—all while using common sense. Then, you should see if the jurisdiction for your existing custody case recently has issued any emergency order(s) that may control your case.
These emergency orders are generally found on the court’s website and are specific to the COVID-19 pandemic. Such emergency orders should usually be looked at in light of and as a compliment to your current custody order. There are even some jurisdictions that, instead of issuing binding emergency orders, have promulgated policies or suggested guidelines as to how to handle COVID-19 concerns, in relation to custody. If your specific custody order (or agreement) and/or the jurisdiction’s emergency order covers what should be done if the safety of the child is at risk, both parents should generally observe such terms.
More specifically, a recent emergency order may possibly cover what should be done if a parent has COVID-19 or is employed as a first-responder, health care worker, or other essential worker. If such a serious scenario does arise, these various emergency orders provide possible direction and outcomes ranging from quarantining of an exposed parent to suspension of custody rights. Likewise, both parents should generally observe such applicable terms and directives found in an emergency order.
In all, I would strongly suggest that you consult a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction, who focuses on family law, so as to discern whether and how your custody order or a recent emergency order may impact your custodial arrangement.
If your situation calls for court intervention and you currently do not have a custody case open or a custody order/agreement in place, I also would suggest that you consult a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction to see if you need to attempt initiation of a custody case. Having a custody case open may allow you to seek relief from the court. If you have a custody case open, there may even be a need to file an emergency petition to seek immediate relief.
Having an attorney for such efforts is important during these times, because many courthouses are closed to the public, courthouse staff may be reduced or working remotely, and there may be restrictions on how a filing can be processed. A competent attorney should be able to help you navigate such issues.
On a more practical level—regardless of the situation with your respective court system—like all citizens, parents should cooperate so as to best adhere to government directives and guidelines, as they relate to the children. Such examples include following CDC and state health recommended protocols regarding keeping distance from others, washing hands, and limiting exposure to public places.
Additionally, parents working with each other and communicating as much as possible as to what is going on at their household and place of employment, can go a long way towards reaching a successful resolution. This form of communication also could include tracking any requests to amend or change the current custodial arrangement for the betterment of the child’s well-being. A lack of transparency or a failure to be understanding now may unnecessarily complicate issues and eventually could be frowned upon by a judge.
Due to the fact-specific nature of this situation, I would strongly suggest you contact an attorney who handles family law matters in your jurisdiction to see how your state’s laws can specifically help you with this serious situation. This type of attorney should be helpful in providing you specific assistance for your matter. Remember, I am unable to provide you with anything more than tips, so please consult a domestic litigation attorney in your jurisdiction to obtain specific advice as to the laws in your state and how they particularly impact your potential case.
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Dan Pearce is an Online Editor for Lexicon, focusing on subjects related to the legal services of customers, Cordell & Cordell and Cordell Planning Partners. He has written countless pieces on MensDivorce.com, detailing the plight of men and fathers going through the divorce experience, as well as the issues seniors and their families experience throughout the estate planning journey on ElderCareLaw.com. Mr. Pearce has managed websites and helped create content, such as the Men’s Divorce Newsletter and the YouTube series, “Men’s Divorce Countdown.” He also has been a contributor on both the Men’s Divorce Podcast and ElderTalk with TuckerAllen.
Mr. Pearce assisted in fostering a Cordell Planning Partners practice area specific for Veterans, as they deal with the intricacies of their benefits while planning for the future. He also helped create the Cordell Planning Partners Resource Guide and the Cordell Planning Partners Guide to Alternative Residence Options, specific for seniors with questions regarding their needs and living arrangements.