Divorced or separated parents who are sharing child custody during the coronavirus pandemic must consider how stay-at-home directives affect custody schedules. Family lawyers around the country are hearing about conflicts, particularly between parents who have different ideas about social distancing and other steps to avoid the virus, leading to disputes about visitation.
Few child custody and agreements or court orders will have provisions addressing how to share parenting during a pandemic. However, it is important to keep in mind that court orders for child custody and child support remain legally binding during the pandemic. There could be legal consequences for violating a custody agreement or court order.
At Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks, P.A., our family law and child custody lawyers recognize the conundrum a parent faces when weighing the safety of their child against a separation or divorce agreement never meant for times like these. In addition to a child’s safety, further conflict might revolve around schools’ shift to online teaching and one parent’s ability or inability to contribute to their children’s education while they are out of school.
Parents dealing with childcare, home schooling, possible illness and other issues during the coronavirus pandemic need to focus on what is best for the child now more than ever.
If necessary, your attorneys at Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks can help negotiate reasonable terms with opposing counsel so that court intervention is not required. Our legal services remain available during the coronavirus outbreak. If we can be of assistance, you should not hesitate to phone us at 919-661-3000 or contact us online.
Allowing for Parenting Time During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Governor Cooper’s March 27, 2020, “stay at home” order prohibits nonessential travel but allows for “travel between one’s place or places of residence for purposes including child custody or visitation arrangements. Cooper eased some restrictions on May 8 regarding his “Phase 1” reopening of the state economically.
Everyone should adhere to the governor’s order or to local stay-at-home orders if they impose greater restrictions.
Parents should follow the terms of their parenting agreement or custody order as written while stay-at-home orders are in effect, unless otherwise directed by the Governor or another executive or judicial order.
The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, in and of itself, is not a valid reason for denying parenting time to your former spouse. Unless otherwise ordered by the court, parents are considered fit to care for their child and make decisions regarding the day-to-day aspects of parenting while their child or children are in their care.
Unless a court order has imposed restraints on communication between divorced or separated parents, the parents should discuss precautions they are taking to guard against COVID-19 and to ensure the safety of their child. A parent is not permitted to deny parenting time based upon the other parent’s unwillingness to discuss precautionary measures they have taken, nor because of a parent’s belief that the other parent’s precautions are insufficient.
If an order requires supervised parenting time and the supervisor is unavailable due to pandemic-related issues or other government orders, parenting time should be conducted virtually via videoconferencing or by telephone.
If the separation / divorce agreement requires parenting time in a public place, parents and children should meet at locations permitted under Governor Cooper’s order, such as a large park, and in accordance with health and safety guidelines for social distancing. Many local parks have remained open, such as Wake County (Raleigh area) parks, and North Carolina State Parks have begun to re-open.
As parents exchange child(ren), everyone should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for limiting the spread of the virus. Consider a location for the exchanges that has fewer people congregating. For example, you may move exchanges from a favorite restaurant to a park.
Though schools are closed, the courts will consider parenting time to have continued as if children were still attending school in accordance with their regular school calendar. School closure for public health purposes is not considered an extension of any break/vacation/holiday period or weekend.
If COVID-19 Strikes a Parent’s Household
If a parent with custody or visitation rights is diagnosed with COVID-19 or displays symptoms related to COVID-19, or a member of his or her household is diagnosed with or displays symptoms related to COVID-19, the parent should ensure that the other parent is notified as soon as possible.
If a current court order prohibits communications, notification should be ensured through some method other than direct contact between the parents. If assistance is needed, feel free to contact Younce, Vtipil, Baznik & Banks for help relaying this important information.