by Rachael C. Bowe, Esquire
Due to current concerns regarding the COVID-19 virus, the Association of Pennsylvania Courts (“AOPC”) and Governor Wolf implemented procedures to protect the general public, and to address the spread of the virus—including the general closure of all Pennsylvania Courts. This creates uncertainty for those navigating family law matters, but despite the closure, avenues still exist to address divorce, custody, support and Protection from Abuse issues that arise during this difficult time.
While Burns White’s office locations are currently closed, our Family Law attorneys are still working and able to help. Here’s how.
Although most divorce court appearances have been continued generally, many attorneys are still working remotely, allowing parties to engage in out-of-court settlement negotiations. Because the avenues to proceed through the court system are limited and the Court is continuing previously scheduled hearings, some parties are more motivated to engage in settlement discussions outside of Court to settle their case. Although the Burns White office location is closed to the public, attorneys are still available to meet virtually with prospective and current clients to discuss specific options in navigating this unique divorce process.
Due to mandatory closures, many parties have experienced a significant reduction and/or complete cessation of income. Parties are applying for unemployment compensation, and assessing how to pay their spousal, and/or child support, obligation while temporarily unemployed. An Order of Court regarding support can be modified based upon a significant change in circumstance this can include an involuntary decrease in income.
Support conferences and hearings have been continued generally, but, parties can still file online for a support modification. While this will not result in immediate relief from the modification, as the conference will not be scheduled quickly, it is important to do because retroactivity for a support modification will go back to the date of filing. Therefore, the sooner the modification is filed, the sooner the Order can be modified retroactively. You can file a modification for support online at https://www.humanservices.state.pa.us/csws/.
Additionally, if you are seeking support, waiting on an initial support order, and in need of funds, the paying party could make a direct payment to you and then have the payment credited to the case, once the initial support conference occurs.
Protection from Abuse
One of the worst fears for an abuse victim is to be isolated with their abuser during this stressful time. Relief is still available to these victims through the courts. All final Protection from Abuse (“PFA”) Hearings have been continued generally, however, this does not prevent a victim from obtaining emergency temporary relief.
A Temporary PFA can go into effect immediately, upon a showing that the victim is being abused or is at risk for imminent harm from the abuser. In Allegheny County, all emergency matters are being handled through the municipal building located at:
660 First Avenue
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15219
Temporary PFA Petitions will be handled during the hours of 8:00 A.M. and 2:00 P.M., Monday through Friday. Emergency PFA Petitions will be addressed from 2:00 P.M. to 8:00 A.M., Monday through Friday and 24 hours Saturday and Sunday.
Please visit https://burnswhite.com/custody-in-the-time-of-covid-19-5-recommenations/ to read Attorney Aleksandra Kocelko’s tips for custody matters during this isolation stage.
In Allegheny County, President Judge Clark issued an Order on March 24, 2020 stating that parties still need to abide by Custody Orders, despite the “stay-at-home” Order from Governor Wolf. In most counties, in the event of a true emergency, relief is still available to parties by way of Motions’ Court, although Motions’ Court procedures have changed temporarily. Motions are being sent electronically, and will be decided on a case-by-case basis to evaluate emergency level. Judges are also teleconferencing counsel and parties if additional information is needed.
This is a very uncertain time for everyone, but more so for those facing family matters. It is important to know that options are available to those navigating divorce, support, PFA, and custody matters. Talk to your attorney to discuss the possibilities available to you.
Again, while our offices are not currently open, our attorneys are all working. Feel free to reach out with your questions today.