Parent in shared custody using 'quarantine' to keep child - USA version
April 8, 2020 1:03 PM   Subscribe

Pretty much what it says. We have 50% custody, the child is currently with other parent, other parent has told me that they will now keep the child because of unspecified quarantine issues. I have called my attorney, but it is always useful to have hive mind suggestions as to possible ideas to talk about with said attorney. Pennsylvania, USA. Thank you!

I really wanted to make this anon. but went with my account in order to try and answer any questions. I know it's a very complex question. Other parent is also asking for money to cover the child's stay them.
posted by life moves pretty fast to Human Relations (20 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am in kind of the the same boat, though spouse is not asking me for money. I have primary custody, but child was with the other parent when the virus hit. My decree states that the settlement is in the best interest of the child. What is in the best interest of the child? Please keep that metric in mind. Any judge will.
posted by rudd135 at 1:16 PM on April 8, 2020 [10 favorites]

Coparenting in the time of covid-19 requires serious discussion and cooperation between all parties. If you want to move the child between homes, their exposure must be the same as if you were all living together, so you and your ex need to agree on who you both expose yourselves to. If you are seeing a new partner, for example, then your child is exposed to them (through you); when child goes back to coparent's house, now coparent is exposed to your partner, and so on. They need to be ok with that. It's the only fair thing to do.

That kind of agreement is possible if both coparents are on civil terms. If you need to get lawyers involved, it may be very tricky. And yes, agree with rudd135 that the first consideration must be the safety and best interests of the child.
posted by yawper at 1:34 PM on April 8, 2020 [7 favorites]

Read the advice in the r/legaladvice Covid FAQ that addresses the specific question I have a custody/visitation problem. That may give you resources to look up regarding your jurisdiction and provide a trajectory for how you proceed.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:38 PM on April 8, 2020 [5 favorites]

Pennsylvania courts are currently closed (as they are in many US states), so getting this in front of a judge won't happen for a while barring an emergency.
posted by adamrice at 1:38 PM on April 8, 2020 [2 favorites]

I made my ex give up custody access for this month of quarantine in return for agreed make up time afterwards. He wanted on going access, I said no because both of us have had such people (no tests) in our larger households, and we each have an essential worker still traveling out daily. She was physically with me so I could do so. I don’t feel bad about that choice because it’s not just my kid’s health, it’s effectively 10 other people involved.

I’m pushing daily video calls and am going to figure out online gaming for remote parent interaction as well.

I expect at the end of lock down to have him ask for and get every weekend for the next six months in compensation which is fine.

Compromise sensibly. Plan for a rebalance and focus on what connections you can maintain.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 1:46 PM on April 8, 2020 [14 favorites]

In your position, I'd be asking myself which of my available options would best minimize the chances of my child, or either of my child's parents, contracting this fucking virus. Because although in an ideal world the pre-agreed custody arrangements would indeed be what was best for my child, the world we're all occupying right now is very very far from ideal. As a parent my job is to act in my childrens' best interests in all circumstances and Covid-19 kills people.

So I'm on team dorothyisunderwood with this one.
posted by flabdablet at 1:53 PM on April 8, 2020 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: (Thanks all so far. Some more background ... I have no symptoms. I am not sure about the other parent. I have not had direct contact with my current partner for several weeks and will not be having any direct contact with my current partner for the foreseeable future.)
posted by life moves pretty fast at 1:54 PM on April 8, 2020

Asymptomatic and presymptomatic people are a major vector for this virus. So the fact that you don't have symptoms only means you don't know if you have the virus. The fact that your child doesn't have symptoms (I assume) only means you don't know if kiddo has the virus.

Likewise, it's not just your current partner that matters in terms of your exposure: Unless you are remaining inside your house 24/7 and not interacting with anyone who potentially has the virus or any potentially contaminated goods, there is a possibility that you're a vector. The same goes for anyone currently in your house.

I think you need to make a decision about what is best for the child and for other members of your family based on the real risks of your child moving between households.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 2:08 PM on April 8, 2020 [17 favorites]

Agree to make up the time later. While the courts are closed now, you can create a record of you being reasonable at this time (and if the other party is unreasonable, you could show that). However, I would not pay any more then you are legally obligated to.
posted by icy_latte at 2:29 PM on April 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

Pennsylvania courts say this:
Nothing in the Governor’s stay-at-home order or the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s emergency orders alters judicial authority regarding child custody under the Domestic Relations Code. However, under the statewide judicial emergency order, the President Judge of each judicial district has authority to modify any court order, see Pa.R.J.A. No. 1952(B)(2)(h), including orders respecting child custody. In so doing, the President Judge must act in accordance with the Domestic Relations Code’s general governing principle of “the best interest of the child.” See 23 Pa.C.S. § 5338(a) (“court may modify a custody order to serve the best interest of the child”). A party who is subject to a general child custody order issued by the President Judge pursuant to her emergency powers may petition the Court of Common Pleas to modify the order as it applies to the particular child in question.

It sounds like your co-parent made this decision unilaterally. Are they also presuming that you will return to a normal schedule at some point? When? And who decides when the risk is low enough? Are they taking their temperature every single day? What if they get sick? This is a big issue and they don't get to decide all this on their own, especially given that many jurisdictions are saying that parents should stick to their custody schedule.

Courts might be closed for now, but they are on very dangerous territory in not making this decision jointly.

I would not give them money. I'm not sure I'd agree that this is best for the child either. Kids need their parents, and routines can be extraordinarily helpful. You could propose that you will have the kids for the same amount of time they have them now when this is done--but before you offer anything, I say talk to your lawyer. There was a legal agreement that said that your child was best served by spending half time with each parent, and one parent does not get to change that, especially not without talking to a lawyer and working out something with you.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:39 PM on April 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

If you have a lawyer, you should listen to their advice. They know much better than any of us about Pennsylvania custody law, and certainly much better than anyone from r/legaladvice. They will know what questions to ask you to get the relevant information. My advice is to just ask your lawyer any questions you might want to ask the internet. Otherwise it’s likely you’ll rely on bad advice and information. I’m sorry this is happening to you.
posted by Henrietta Stackpole at 3:29 PM on April 8, 2020 [6 favorites]

Epidemiologist here: I would continue to follow up with your personal attorney for the legal aspects of this (with respect to compensation, judgment on the nature of this arrangement) but it is not a bad idea in the immediate short term to avoid ferrying your child back and forth between households. Your lack of symptoms is immaterial--even a false hope--and, though there is no good feeling that comes with me saying this, the fewer interactions you, your child, and your ex have at the moment, and possibly for at least the next few weeks, the better. Keep working to resolve this issue, and keep working to stay in touch with your kid via distance-oriented means. I, too, have three step-kids who are no longer legally my children after a divorce, but until this all started they were free to come visit me whenever they saw fit. For the last three weeks, we've been group chatting via Instagram whenever we can. I'm not going to insist they come stay with me as they did before because we're in a situation where that is a variable we can control.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 4:15 PM on April 8, 2020 [10 favorites]

I am not a lawyer, but I work for the state bar in Oregon. We have updated our website - specifically the public-facing legal information - with what the courts have said about parenting in this time of pandemic.

In Oregon, the parenting plan that has already been established is still the law and parents are not allowed to modify it unilaterally. I do not know how things are going in your state, but check with your state bar to see if they have updated information.

My ex-wife is a nurse at a hospital and I hate the fact that she takes care of patients, then comes home to our little ones, who in turn come visit me on the weekend. But I know that, legally, I cannot force her to let them stay with me until this blows over. We all have to do what the law says, not what we personally feel.
posted by tacodave at 5:36 PM on April 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

You aren’t alone, a lot of poorly behaved parents are using this excuse to withhold custody. In my jurisdiction (Ontario) the Courts have ruled that current Orders must be followed and that if a parent wishes to change the existing Order there is an extremely high bar - first to get an urgent motion before the shut down Court and second to achieve any changes without credible proof the other parent is willfully disregarding Public Health orders. Our Courts also shut down, but have a small loophole of only urgent written/teleconference motions specifically for this type of situation. There have also been case law that any parent who attempts to use this crisis for their own purpose will be judged harshly, including having custody/residence rights stripped away. But it sounds like Pennsylvania has closed off that avenue.

In the Ontario decisions it has been emphasized that this is a difficult and confusing time for children and it is in their best interests of the children to continue routines, see each parent for the maximum amount of time, and have each parent demonstrate that they trust their co-parent to be putting the children’s needs first (quite a few parents before the court have used this as an opportunity to alienate the children and insist the other parent is “unsafe”).

Follow your lawyer’s advice, first of all. Your options:

1. Send a detailed letter from your lawyer explicitly describing how you are in complete compliance with local public health and the court order and give her 24 hours to return the children.

2. Offer to keep the children with you 100% of the time, if she is concerned about travel/exposure, or, alternately, you trust that she is taking the virus as serious as you, and you are willing to continue the current residence Order of alternating households for the children.

3. Show up at her door and tell her you are there to pick up the children, as per your Court Order (bring a paper copy).

4. Call the police and request their assistance in enforcing your Court Order (sucks for the kids to see police involved).

5. Call your local Children’s Aid society and request their assistance.

6. Have your lawyer prepare a Motion for custody and residence to revert to you, based on the parents’s behaviour, as they have demonstrated an inability to put the children’s needs first and co-parent effectively and serve in the parent.
posted by saucysault at 5:37 PM on April 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Periodic reminder: if a question doesn't specify the gender of folks mentioned in the text, be careful not to assume and insert that into your answers.
posted by cortex (staff) at 6:04 PM on April 8, 2020 [4 favorites]

The other parent shouldn't have told you they were keeping the child, that's true. They should have discussed it with you. And yeah, you have a standing legal agreement.

But. What's more important to you in this situation, your child's welfare, or being right?

Ferrying the child between two households is undoubtedly more dangerous than choosing the safest household and having them stay there for the duration. Which household has more exposure? If it's not clearly your ex's, I think you should allow your child to stay there for now.

The fact that you put the word quarantine in scare quotes bugs me. It implies that you don't think your ex is truly concerned about your child but is just using this epidemic as an excuse. That's a very hostile attitude for you to take towards your ex, and it isn't going to be helpful when discussing this with them.

As for the question of money, I think it's far less clear that you should agree to that. If you're concerned that they don't have enough money for basics, I think you should do something like ordering groceries for them or paying their rent directly, rather than offering cash. And document everything so you can factor it into whatever court wranglings occur months from now.

Good luck.
posted by nirblegee at 2:50 AM on April 9, 2020 [2 favorites]

How old is the child and how will you continue to have contact with them? This is really important. If you are able to be in meaningful contact with them a lot then this is an indication that the other parent's decision is being made in the best interests of the child. But if there is not meaningful contact it is an indication that they are overriding the child's need to have meaningful contact with you. If the kid is a baby, Skype is not meaningful. If the kid is nine, spending every evening on Skype with you sounds like the arrangement is aiming towards best interests of the child.

If the other parent has gone no-contact, then once the courts are churning, you will have a very strong argument that they are using this as an excuse and it is not in the best interests of the child.

If you are refusing to speak to the other parent because you are just too angry and threatened right now, you would be well advised to work towards going back to sane dialogue between the two of you, possibly by using an intermediary.

You need to figure out in your own mind, and upon advice from some unbiased outsiders, not your sister who has a hate on for your ex, how much this is the ex honestly trying to protect your child, and how much this is your ex trying to take advantage of the situation. What you do and what you say to the courts and to your lawyer will be very different depending on an honest evaluation and what kind of meaningful contact is possible with this particular child, including if the child were only in your household for the duration. If you know it's malicious your response is different then if you know it's out of control anxiety, and different again if you know it's genuine realistic wish to protect the child, but that might set a precedent that would make it hard for you to maintain a good relationship with the child. You need to try to be really objective here.

If you can make sure that your house either full time or part time your household is in complete lock down from any vectors. No working outside, grocery deliveries, no errands, no visitors. This will scotch any argument your ex may make that your household is not safe. If your ex cannot do this and you can, you've got a good argument that the child is better off at your place than theirs. If they are on greater lock down than you are, then they have an argument supporting their change of plan.

Second, try and set up a situation so that if your child were to be at your house under lock down and not able to get back to the home of your ex that they could have lots of meaningful contact with your ex. Make sure you have the set up so that your ex cannot argue that you would be depriving them of meaningful contact if the situation were reversed.

Make sure you do not say or indicate anything that suggests you would deprive your ex of meaningful contact and especially not where it could go on record. Get it on record if you ever did say such a thing in the heat of the moment that you now say you were being stupid and were temporarily upset when you said that and of course you would never deprive your child of meaningful contact. Only the courts could, would or should make a decision to limit your child's access to their other parent. Be convincing.

Use intermediaries to step up your contact with the child, even if you think that your ex will block that contact. For example mail stuff to your kid, even if you think your ex will throw the stuff out. Of course if you think your ex will do that don't send anything valuable to the child, such as toys they are attached to. Send new toys, new clothes, new books, food for the child, letters and pictures.

Requests for more money do not make much sense, since you are still both having to maintain space and resources for the child no matter where the kid is, unless it is amounts allocated for groceries and medication. If they suddenly want to get better internet connectivity so the child can spend lots of new social time on video, for example, you may also need better internet connectivity too. Consider having groceries delivered. Choosing the groceries for your kid and arranging delivery is staying involved and might feel better for you as opposed to transferring money where there may be issues of trusting your spouse to not go outside unnecessarily, or spending money unwisely - but remember never, ever deprive your child to deprive your ex.
posted by Jane the Brown at 7:43 AM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: (Many angles here, and it is also a stressful topic in a stressful time in many ways, so, many thanks to all for your thoughtful responses. Going to aim somewhere for the center of all of this.)
posted by life moves pretty fast at 9:24 AM on April 9, 2020

There's no excuse or reasonable justification for your partner deciding unilaterally to prevent you from seeing your child. I'm sorry this is happening to you.

You may want to look up some statistics about the risk of COVID-19 to children to inform your opinion about whether quarantining the child in either house is an action you would endorse on grounds of risk to the child. The CDC just published some information about cases in the United States that you can read here.

Keep in mind that the current risk profile of coronavirus isn't going to end tomorrow. It may well not end this year, and it may not end next year. Your spouse's position appears to be "you can't ever see your child again for the foreseeable future." If I were you I would be accordingly aggressive in pursuing a legal remedy.
posted by value of information at 6:06 PM on April 9, 2020 [1 favorite]

(I mean to say "ex-partner" etc., sorry for the inaccuracy.)
posted by value of information at 6:32 PM on April 9, 2020

« Older Help me remember YA Fantasy from the 90s   |   Looking for a video game to play with my son Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.