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  • April 9, 2020

    Bucks County Custody Courts and the Coronavirus

    Article

    Written by: Barbara M. Kirk

    I would like to provide you with an update about the current Bucks County court situation as it relates to custody matters. Due to the governor’s orders and to minimize COVID-19 spread, the courts are closed to the public with the exception of certain emergency matters, such as protection from abuse filings, bail hearings, search warrant hearings, and emergency custody matters.

    During these difficult times, custody exchanges can be difficult. The Bucks County Family Court Division has issued directives regarding custody and current orders. 

    Those directives are basically:

    1. All custody orders previously entered remain in effect, except for the following supplements which shall remain in place until the “stay at home” order is rescinded by the governor or the order expires as the order covers Bucks County or any other custody where a party is subject to the custody order.

    a.    All parties to a custody order shall adhere to CDC recommended protocols, such as handwashing before touching a child, cleaning and disinfecting surfaces which a child may come into contact, social distancing with a child, and refraining from taking a child to a  public place;

    b.    All parties shall immediately report to the other party if any person in his or her household becomes infected with COVID-19 or shows signs of being infected with Covid 19 or has any other respiratory infection (such as a cold, flu, etc.). If reported, then,
      • If the party who gives notice does not have custody of the child under an order of custody at the time of the report , then that party shall presumptively have his or her physical custody rights suspended and the child shall remain with the other party until the infection or condition has resolved;
      • If the party who gives notice has custody of the child under an order of custody at the time of the report, then the other party’s physical custody rights shall be presumptively suspended and the child shall remain with the reporting party until the condition or infection has resolved;
      • Any party whose physical custody rights are temporarily suspended under the above conditions shall have the right to have daily contact with the child, by telephone, FaceTime, Skype or other electronic means available, and the contact shall be liberal and in such a way to maximize the contact between child and the non-custodial parent, with privacy and without interference by the custodial parent.
      • If a party believes that the notice set forth above was given in bad faith, that party may file an immediate petition to have his or her physical custody rights restored.

    2.    Any parent who fails to give notice as required above or who gives notice without proper cause, shall be subject to a finding of contempt by the court, which may include all permissible penalties, including fines, imprisonment, payment of penalties or attorneys’ fees, or modification/suspension of custody rights.

    3.      If a provision of the custody order requires custody exchange to take place at a public place, such as library, then the exchange will occur in the parking lot of the public place during this time of “stay at home” as ordered by the state.

    If in doubt, I recommend that you, as a parent, err on the side of caution to avoid the risk of your child(ren)’s exposure to the COVID-19 virus or any other viral infection during this difficult time.

    Be safe and take care.