Child Custody Exchanges and Filings During Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Filing for Emergency Custody Petitions During COVID19: Update for 03/24/2020

The Family Law Unit at Philadelphia Legal Assistance is OPEN during the pandemic. 

Call our Family Law Hotline at 215-981-3838 for help.

Monday - Thursday, 9:30 A.M. - 12:00 P.M.

The coronvirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had ripple effects throughout Philadelphia that may complicate existing custody orders and arrangements. Family law advocates at Philadelphia Legal Assistance, Women’s Law Project, and Women Against Abuse have compiled this resource to help families navigate these difficult times.  Note: A PDF of this information is available at the bottom of this webpage for easier sharing.

First, you should note that:

  • Child custody transfers are permitted under the City of Philadelphia’s Stay at Home Order under “visting/caring for family”- meaning the Court expects you to follow any orders you have during this crisis. 
  • Family Court is currently closed and is scheduled to re-open June 1, 2020. 
  • All custody hearings scheduled between March 17 and May 29, 2020 will be automatically “continued”, which means rescheduled to a later date. You will receive notice of the new date in the mail. Do not go to Family Court for your proceeding before June 1, 2020. 
  • Only Emergency Custody Petitions will be accepted during this time. Emergency Custody Petitions are for serious situations in which a child’s life or health is at risk. A parent or caregiver not following a custody order is usually not considered an emergency, unless the child’s health and/or safety is at serious risk of harm.
  • The Court Nursery is closed for visitation. No supervised visits will be taking place in the Court Nursery until the Family Court reopens. 

What does this mean for those with existing orders?

Court closures do not impact existing custody Orders. You should continue to follow the Court Order to the best of your ability, otherwise you may later be found in contempt. We know that interruptions to routines, income, and public transportation may make it difficult to follow the existing Order. If you and your child feel safe, be flexible and communicate with the other party to make special arrangements when necessary. 

If your Custody Order depends on the school calendar, you should continue to follow the Order as if school is still in session until the time the school year would naturally end. 

Advice for custody exchanges: 

  • Communicate with the other party via text, email, and/or any other messages you can save. 
  • Keep a log of every exchange, including time, location, any important details about the child’s health and wellbeing. 
  • If your child is being withheld from you, do not stop insisting on exercising physical custody because you anticipate the answer will be no. Being able to show that you asked a reasonable amount of times to see your child over the course of three months is much more powerful than a single text asking for access. 
  • If there is a Protection From Abuse Order in place on your behalf, only communicate with the other party to arrange for custody exchanges if it is safe for you to do so.
  • If there is a Protection From Abuse Order in place against you, please note communications - even about custody - could be considered a violation of the protection from abuse order unless the protection from abuse order specifically allows for communication about the child or is a “protection only” order where contact is allowed.

Despite the court closures, you can still file for an Emergency Custody Petition via email. 

  • Unless you already have an underlying petition from before the crisis, in order to file an Emergency Custody Petition, you must also file
    • A Complaint for Custody, if there is no existing custody order; or
    • A Petition to  Modify Custody, if there is already an existing custody order and the Emergency Petition seeks to modify the custody order; or
    • A Petition for Contempt of Custody if the Emergency Petition alleges that the current custody order has been violated
  • Every Emergency Custody Petition must be accompanied by the following
    • A Domestic Relations Information Sheet
    • A Criminal Record/Abuse History Verification
  • Emergency Petitions must be emailed to custodyemergency@courts.phila.gov. Petitions are only accepted via email, there are no in person filings.You must include an email address and/or phone number so the court may contact you back.
  • The Petitioner must provide a telephone number at which they can be reached by court staff. 

The Emergency Custody Petition is available at: https://www.courts.phila.gov/pdf/forms/domestic-relations/Petition-for-Emergency-Relief-and-Attachments-Custody-COVID-19.pdf

After filing, 

  • The Emergency Custody Petition will be reviewed by the designated Judge
  • Petitioners will be notified by email and/or telephone whether the Petition is acceptable
  • If acceptable for filing, the Petitioner will be provided with instructions regarding filing and service. An ex-parte (without the other party) hearing may be held telephonically.
  • You will receive instructions on picking up your order from the Court.

Safety Tips 

  • You can complete the Emergency Custody paperwork using a friend or family member’s computer  
  • You can use a friend or family member’s e-mail to file the Emergency Custody paperwork  
  • When you file by e-mail, you can include specific times when it is safe for the Court to call you on the telephone 
  • You can ask for help filing your paperwork and you can speak to an advocate before you file  
  • If your exchange spot is usually at a location that is now closed you can exchange the child in the parking lot. If that seems unsafe for you and/or the child you should request that the exchange take place at a police district, either in the parking lot or in the station itself.

 

Legal Resources and Safety Planning 

Women Against Abuse Legal Center 216-686-7082 

Safety planning, legal options counseling and advice, assistance filing paperwork 

https://www.womenagainstabuse.org/services/legal-center 

Philadelphia Legal Assistance 215-981-3800  

Safety planning, legal options counseling and advice, assistance filing paperwork 

Telephone intake Monday – Thursday 9:30 – noon, call 215-981-3838 

https://www.philalegal.org/ 

SeniorLAW Center 215-988-1242 

http://seniorlawcenter.org/ 

Women’s Law Project 215-928-9801  

https://www.womenslawproject.org/ 

Philadelphia Domestic Violence Hotline 1-866-SAFE 014 (1-866-723-3014) 

https://www.womenagainstabuse.org/index.php/get-help/PDVH