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Custody Orders in the Time of COVID-19

On Behalf of | Mar 18, 2020 | Child Custody |

If you have a custody order in place, you may know by now that it does not always cover everything. This does not mean it is not a good order, it simply means that there will always be unforeseen circumstances where parents have to use common sense and exercise good judgment rather than relying on a document for guidance. If you have a strained relationship with your child’s other parent, this can be challenging.

While parents should continue to strive to follow the schedule and provisions set out in their current child custody order, there are some unique situations which parents need to pay close attention to.

Parents Who Live in Different States

Parents who share custody of the children but live in different states need to consider when their next custodial exchange is and determine whether any adjustments need to be made. If a parent is available to take the children earlier than the designated exchange time, or the exchange date is based on the school schedule and schools are no longer in operation where the children reside, then it may be appropriate for that parent to go ahead and assume their custodial time if the parties can agree.

Factors parents need to consider when making such a decision are the level of the outbreak in the respective areas where the parents reside, the parent’s work arrangements and availability to provide care for the children, the ability of the respective parents to facilitate school coursework, and the safety of any car or air travel that would be required for the exchange.

Finally, it is important to remember that any state or national decisions which would prohibit travel out of the state would trump any custody order that is in place. In the event travel restrictions were to impede a custodial exchange, the parents should communicate and make reasonable efforts to ensure that a parent who missed custodial time has the opportunity to make it up when travel restrictions are lifted.

Parents Who Have Travel Plans

Restrictions on international travel would largely cover and address any situations where a parent had plans to travel with a child out of the country. However, in unique circumstances where a child has dual citizenship in the U.S. and another country, the travel ban may not prevent a parent from removing the child to the other country where the child is also a citizen. This can be problematic if that country is one that has been severely affected by the coronavirus outbreak, and could also be problematic if there are risks that the child may not be able to re-enter the country when they are supposed to be returned to the parent who resides here.

Parents should be reasonable about adjusting any international travel plans they have within the next six months. Additionally, should a parent refuse to be reasonable, more urgent measures to address the dispute may be necessary.

Children With Serious Medical Conditions

In cases where parents have child with a chronic illness such as cancer, a lung disease or a respiratory disorder, coronavirus may present unique risks. Parents should cooperate to take recommended precautions, especially in cases involving infants who are not able to verbally communicate any symptoms they may be experiencing.

If a parent tests positive for the virus or is symptomatic, they should immediately offer the care of the child to the other parent. Additionally, if there are other members of a parent’s household who have the virus or are experiencing symptoms, those household members should be quarantined, and the parent should consider relinquishing their custodial time to the other parent until every household member is in the clear.

In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, families have an opportunity to show each other kindness and respect and renewed focus on the best interest of their children. While parents should seek to adhere to their court order or agreement regarding custody, parents must also be open to making reasonable adjustments to the order to protect the health, safety and best interest of their children.