Amid the spread of COVID-19, we are all facing unprecedented times. As this pandemic continues, regulations regarding safe practices change daily. One thing on the mind of parents sharing custody is whether or not their court order is enforceable.
Rest assured, court orders regarding custody and parenting time are in effect and continue to be enforceable during this period of time. Court-orders remain obligatory and should be followed accordingly, unless an exigent circumstance arises.
Any parent planning to use the pandemic as a reason to deny access to another parent without just cause consisting of an exigent circumstance can expect the courts to come down hard on parent agreement violations. Many judges view times of crisis to be particularly critical times for children to maintain some form of normality. An exigent circumstance during the period of the COVID-19 virus would occur if a parent who is seeking parenting time has been quarantined for exposure to the virus. Nonetheless, in the unfortunate event that a parent is required to self-quarantine or is restricted from having contact with others, efforts should be made to allow for parenting time by video conference or telephone.
In cases where parents are willing to work together regarding a parenting plan during this COVID-19 pandemic, it is encouraged that they should consider the following: which parent has better resources for the child to complete distance learning, if one parent has a high-risk job, the health of family members, social distancing rules, etc.
A critical aspect of co-parenting that may be affected by the pandemic is where the exchange of children takes place. For some parents, court orders indicate that the changeover occurs at school. However, if the school is no longer in session, a new location and time will need to be agreed upon. Again, it is encouraged that parents work together to come up with a mutually agreeable alternative exchange location. If the exchange is not possible from someone’s home, a reasonable alternative would be to find a public place as close to the child’s school as possible to make the exchange.
In the event no agreement is made, and one parent is refusing all court-ordered parenting time, the family court will accept the filing of a motion or contempt complaint and will reach out on a case by case basis as to how and when this issue will be heard by the court.
Co-parenting Across State Lines
To contain the spread of COVID-19, most states have instructed residents to remain at home as much as possible. However, children of divorced or separated parents still need to move between households. This can become particularly difficult as states are setting their own guidelines regarding travel and restrictions, including automatic quarantines if you cross state lines.
As with any custody and parenting agreement, the needs and safety of the child should always come first. If you feel your child is being unlawfully withheld from you, contact our office for guidance during these unprecedented times.