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How to Handle Child Custody During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic poses new challenges for all families. The economic downturn will test most household’s ability to pay for food and rent. Unemployment may also mean the loss of health insurance when a family may need it the most.

Working at home may add “watching the kids” to one’s job description. However, there are many separated families who may find themselves with questions about their child custody arrangements while ordered to shelter in place. This article will try to answer some of the more common questions about child custody and the global pandemic.

Are There Any Options for Seeing My Child While He or She is Sheltered in Place with the Other Parent?

Many parents sharing joint custody must come up with creative solutions to honor their joint custody agreements. Some alternatives include:

  • Online chatting, such as Skype, Facetime, or Zoom.
  • Make-up parenting time after the shelter orders have been lifted.
  • If your county or state permits it, local exercise such as bike rides or park walks.
  • Some parents may have reached an amicable place in their relationship and can shelter in place together with their child (ren).

Some parents may be tempted to call an Uber or share-ride to pick up the child. Public rides are not advisable at this time as ride sharing may violate your jurisdiction’s social distancing order.

COVID-19What Happens If I Have the Virus or If the Other Parent Has the Virus?

The best interests of the child must come first. Children who might have been exposed to the virus should be tested right away. If it is safe and necessary, the children may need to shelter in place with the non-infected parent. Although the law recognizes that children need to spend time with both parents, the health of the child may be considered more important during a global pandemic.

What If the Other Parent is Violating the Social Distancing Orders?

There are some people who do not believe the pandemic is serious and may not follow any of the social distancing orders as a result. It is unlikely that the police or courts will take action because an individual is violating a shelter order – enforcement has mostly been aimed at businesses that refuse to comply.

Each case will be unique depending on the parents, the children, and the state/county where they reside. However, many custody orders will be reviewed once the pandemic is over. Both parents should try to cooperate rather than risk having an unfavorable custody order once the courts resume normal operations. If a parent violated a shelter order, a judge may not look favorably upon that parent.

Can I Be Arrested for Keeping My Children Away from My Partner While We are Ordered to Shelter in Place?

It is unlikely that a parent would be arrested just for complying with a shelter order. Most police and courthouses will understand that current shelter orders may make it difficult for parents to share custody. Indeed, many courts will not be hearing any custody cases unless it is an emergency. The exception would be cases of domestic violence (see below).

What If I Suspect My Child is Being Abused While in Another Household?

Domestic abuse can be a big issue when families are ordered to shelter in place. Social distancing may cause a victim to be isolated with an abuser with no outside intervention. Although joint custody may be disrupted by the pandemic, parents should still maintain contact with the kids to ensure that everyone is safe.

If you suspect your child is being abused, you should call the police immediately. Many courts maintain ex parte hearings for emergencies even while the rest of the courthouse is closed.

Do I Need a Lawyer if I Have Questions about How Virus May Impact My Child Custody?

Child custody laws can be difficult to navigate even without a global pandemic to deal with. If you need help with any of the custody laws in your area, you may need to hire a local child custody lawyer.

If you or your child are being domestically abused, please call the police immediately and contact a family lawyer to arrange an ex parte hearing as soon as possible.

Jason Cheung

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