Custody Issues During Quarantine and Shelter in Place Orders

COVID-19, often referred to simply as “the coronavirus,” has caused significant anxiety and disruptions to our daily lives throughout the United States. Things that a few weeks ago seemed unthinkable have become a reality, leaving many people unmoored from their daily routines and unsure of how to handle even basic tasks like getting groceries.

With many jurisdictions imposing mandatory shelter in place orders in an effort to promote social distancing, many parents who share custody of their children are unsure of how the current situation will affect their child custody arrangements. Many of these orders prohibit people from leaving their homes unless they are seeking medical treatment, obtaining food, or getting exercise.  Obviously, this raises the question as to whether you can or should leave your home in order to stick to your shared custody arrangement.

Read on to learn more about how to deal with child custody issues during the pandemic. For more information or to discuss the specifics of your case, call an attorney today.

Stick to the Terms of Your Custody Arrangement as Much as Possible

Shelter in place and similar public health orders do not override or invalidate your child custody order. For this reason, you should try and comply with the terms of the order as much as possible. Importantly, your custody order may have terms that indicate each parents’ rights and responsibilities when it comes to emergencies. Check your order to see if it contains any terms regarding what parents need to do during school closures, natural disasters, or other situations that are out of the ordinary.

Do Not Take Matters into Your Own Hands

During this time of fear and uncertainty, you may be tempted to take matters into your own hands and ignore the terms of your child custody order. Doing so would be a bad idea and could even subject you to civil or criminal liability. To the extent possible, comply with the terms of your child custody order. Of course, if compliance is impossible or would put your child at a substantial risk of harm, judges may make exceptions. You can always talk to your child’s other parent and come to an informal agreement about how to deal with extraordinary circumstances as they arise, and the matter will not end up in court unless your child’s other parent decides to file a petition.

Make Sure You and Your Child’s Other Parent are on the Same Page

Perhaps the simplest and most effective thing that you can do for the safety of yourself and your family is to discuss how you are handling the pandemic with your child’s other parent. It’s vital that the two of you are on the same page about how you will handle the pandemic. If one of you is isolating or practicing social distancing and the other is not, it can put everyone involved at risk. Not only could your child be inadvertently exposed to COVID-19 by your child’s other parent while he or she is asymptomatic, but it could also result in exposure to you as well.

You should discuss things rules for outdoor activities, playdates, and whether your child’s other parent is practicing isolation during the times he or she does not have the child. If your child’s other parent is ignoring the current guidance officials are providing or engaging in conduct you believe to be high-risk, it’s a good idea to discuss your options with a lawyer. In some cases, it may be possible to obtain a temporary custody order that provides you with full custody in order to protect your child’s safety and health.

In the event that your child’s other parent is showing symptoms of respiratory illness, you should speak to a physician and call a lawyer before allowing your child to spend time in-person with his or her other parent.

What to Do if Your Child is High Risk or one Parent Works in Healthcare

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people who are immunocompromised or have certain underlying medical conditions are at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19. In addition, people who work in healthcare are inherently at a greater risk of exposure to the virus as a result of their working environment. If your child is a member of an at-risk group or his or her other parent works in healthcare, you may want to take extra precautions in order to keep your child safe.

Some of the steps you could consider include discussing using virtual visitations rather than taking your child to spend time with his or her other parent. Apps like Facetime, Skype, and Zoom all allow for free video chat, and if your child’s other parent is amenable, it could reduce the risk that your child gets exposed.

You May Be Able to Obtain an Emergency Custody Order

While many courts have postponed all non-essential proceedings and taken other steps to reduce the number of people in the courthouse, you still may be able to obtain an ex-parte emergency custody order granting you full custody until a court can hold a full hearing on the matter. Ex parte means that the other parent does not need to be present, so if you are in a situation where your child’s other parent is being uncooperative or is engaging in conduct that could put your child at risk, this may be the best option for you. Because obtaining an emergency custody order can be a complicated matter, it’s highly advisable to pursue one with the help of an experienced family law attorney.

Contact an Attorney for Advice

We are living through an unprecedented event, and many things are currently uncertain. What is certain, however, is that an experienced lawyer can help you navigate the legal pitfalls associated with custody issues during the pandemic and ensure that you are doing everything you can to protect your parental rights and your children. If you have any questions or concerns about child custody during this time, contact an attorney in your area today.