Sharing Child Custody Amid The COVID-19 Pandemic

For the past few weeks, the world has been held hostage by the COVID-19 pandemic, and from all indications, it’s going to be some time before we all get to return to a life with a semblance of normalcy.

For now, however, we have a new normal, and that’s a world of quarantines and social distancing. People are advised to stay at least 1.5 meters from each other. We have been given orders to stay at home. With the exception of a few thousand protesters in different states, most Americans have heeded such orders, fully understanding the possible consequences of defying them.

Unfortunately, stay-at-home orders have contributed to millions of Americans losing jobs and entrepreneurs shutting down their businesses. And as if the havoc the pandemic has wreaked on our economy wasn’t enough, it has made quite an impact on our family lives. With people being asked to stay put in their homes, visiting loved ones who live in another part of the city or state has become quite the challenge.

The challenge becomes even greater when you think about how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted joint custody. Quarantines require people to remain in one household, but the laws that cover joint custody say that as long as there’s an agreement in place, the child, by law, has to go back and forth between two households. It won’t be long before co-parents start calling up their child custody attorney to settle the issue of where their child has to stay in the time of coronavirus.

Unprecedented Legal Situation

Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic has presented society with an unprecedented legal situation. Custody agreements exist, and they all must be followed to the letter by both parents.

In most cases, honoring these agreements were never a problem, with co-parents periodically meeting up to turn over the care of their kids to one another.

The whole process was like a well-oiled machine for most divorced couples, then the pandemic threw a wrench into that machine and made everything incredibly complicated, to say the least.

No Universal Rules About Joint Custody During Pandemic

Unless both co-parents agree to an alternative plan for their joint custody orders or if a judge changes them, the existing agreement must continue to be followed. That means anyone denying visitation runs the risk of being sanctioned and declared in contempt by the court.

Following the joint custody orders remains the default action of co-parents during the pandemic, especially since there are still no universal rules in place that family courts can follow during the pandemic.

Temporary Change to Custody

However, if one parent truly believes that sending the kid over to the ex’s home puts his or her health at risk, then the co-parents need to discuss the whole thing in depth, with their child’s best interest in mind. Valid concerns include the child being at high risk for COVID-19, the other parent working a job where exposure to COVID-19 is high, or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.

It’s understandable for parents who don’t get to spend time with their kid to feel a little shortchanged by any changes to their joint custody arrangement, but the child’s safety is of paramount importance. They need to come to an agreement for a temporary change to custody or visitation orders for their child’s sake.

However, it can’t be helped that some co-parents will butt heads over the custody of their child, with neither budging for the other. In cases like this, they may have to consult a local family law attorney or mediator, or eventually seek a judge’s intervention. If you’re in the middle of such a situation, you better present solid, factual proof that turning over your child to your ex puts him or her in imminent danger.

Discuss Alternatives

The COVID-19 pandemic is uncharted territory for family law—and law in general—and co-parents squabbling in court over custody is only going to make the situation even more stressful not only for them but for the child as well.

It would always be best for co-parents to talk things over as objectively as they can, with clear heads. They can discuss possible consequences if they stick to the original agreement, as well as alternatives that will allow the other parent to have access to the child despite being unable to spend time with each other physically.

Daily phone calls, text messages, and virtual visits using Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom would be excellent ways of staying in touch. Scheduling make-up visits for when governors lift stay-at-home orders would be a great idea as well.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a unique situation for all of us. While co-parents can opt to battle it out in court to fight for their rights as stated in their existing agreement or renegotiating it, mutually agreeing to some changes just to keep their child and the whole family safe is still the more peaceful way to go while there are no rules covering child custody amid COVID-19 just yet.

About the Author

Sam Mazella is the Marketing Director of The Peterson Law Firm, the go-to practice in Arizona when facing divorce, child custody, child support and financial crisis. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking and camping trips with his family and friends.

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