Child Custody and Visitation During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Child Custody and Visitation During the COVID-19 Pandemic

COVID-19 has affected every aspect of life—from school, work, and travel to how we buy groceries and toiletries. Continue reading to learn how this global pandemic might affect custody plans for some families.

Medical experts agree that social distancing will help slow the spread of COVID-19. As a result, local and state governments across the U.S. have shut down schools, issued orders to close businesses, and told the public to stay home. As of today’s date, 191 million Americans in 19 states, 45 counties, and 18 cities have been told to stay home.  

How do Social Distancing Rules Affect Custody Arrangements?

The social distancing and shelter-in-place rules do not directly affect custody orders, so you should continue following your current custody arrangement unless you and your ex agree to an alternative plan or a judge changes your custody order. Courts are making it clear that the failure to follow court orders during this time may result in contempt of court.

Within a family unit, creating an effective social distancing plan can be as simple as adopting rules for parents and children to follow within their home. But for divorced or separated parents, social distancing and staying healthy when children are going back and forth between two households can be difficult.

Divorced or separated parents with good coparenting relationships may find it easy to agree on measures that both households will follow to meet their children’s best interests. For parents of children who are high-risk for COVID-19, it’s especially important to reach clear agreements on how to keep their children safe.

Children and COVID-19

According to medical experts, individuals with asthma are at a higher risk for getting very sick or developing respiratory complications related to COVID-19. Despite signs that children are fending off the virus well, experts caution that children with underlying chronic health conditions should still be considered high-risk for developing complications from COVID-19. “Infants and children who are immunocompromised or have other cardiac, metabolic, or respiratory problems are also at higher risk of complications from Covid-19, just as they would be from other infections.”

If your child has asthma or an underlying medical condition that makes your child more susceptible to COVID-19 or resulting respiratory complications, you and your child’s other parent should speak to your child’s doctor and decide how to keep your child safe. You can ask your ex to agree to modify custody on a temporary basis, and propose alternatives such as:

  • postponing in-person visits for a period of time (depending on what your child’s doctor says) with make-up visits scheduled for a later date
  • scheduling daily phone calls and/or “virtual visits” using FaceTime or Zoom
  • having your ex come by in-person to say hello, but keep a safe distance from your child if your child’s doctor thinks this is safe (some family members are visiting vulnerable relatives through windows while talking on the phone) and/or
  • sending letters, postcards, and text messages.

And if your ex is currently sick with a cold or flu, speak to your child’s doctor right away—postponing visits may be the most reasonable course of action. It goes without saying that if your ex has tested positive for COVID-19, he or she will be hospitalized or asked to self-quarantine, and visits will have to be postponed.

Emergency Custody Orders

If your ex has flouted social distancing rules or works in a high-risk environment, and you’re worried about your vulnerable or immunocompromised/suppressed child getting sick with COVID-19, speak with your child’s pediatrician for advice.

If your child’s other parent refuses to follow medical advice, and you believe that your child’s health will be at risk by visiting the other parent, you should contact a local family law attorney right away for advice. You (or your attorney) may need to ask a family court judge for an emergency temporary custody order.

Custody decisions in every state—including emergency requests—are made by considering the child’s best interests. If a judge finds that it’s in your child’s best interests to postpone or limit visits with your ex for a period of time and schedule make-up visits, the court can modify your custody arrangement on temporary basis.

Most federal and state courthouses have closed for nonessential cases in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. But many Family Law courts remain open for emergency matters. Check with your attorney or local court website to see if your courthouse remains opens for emergency custody issues.

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