The novel coronavirus has changed virtually every aspect of our daily lives. Whether you’re working from home, helping your kids in their virtual classroom, or avoiding public places, you’re certainly impacted by the risks of COVID-19.
It’s no secret that family dynamics have changed a lot for many people during this time, as well. Experts predicted that divorce rates would skyrocket due to widespread shut-downs, for example. And even if your marriage already ended prior to the arrival of COVID-19 in the U.S., you might find that infection rates or potential exposure could change the way you and your former partner are able to co-parent your children.
That’s certainly a source of frustration for some parents — especially in cases where one former spouse might be using the threat of COVID-19 to their advantage. Although many of us have found ways to forge ahead and accept the “new normal” of life during the pandemic, there’s no telling what the future may hold. As such, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the ways in which COVID-19 could impact your existing custody arrangement and why you might want to contact your child custody lawyers if you find yourself in a similar situation.
Can COVID-19 Legally Impact My Child Custody Agreement?
There’s no clear-cut answer that will apply to every family in every situation. Generally speaking, however, the mere threat of COVID-19 isn’t necessarily enough for one parent to legally deny the other parent their visitation rights. In fact, even a local or statewide shutdown or shelter-in-place order might not be sufficient. In most cases, you cannot legally modify a custody agreement without the permission of a judge. While you may be able to work things out directly with your former spouse, you can’t make unilateral decisions relating to parenting time adjustments.
If your child (or someone else in your immediate household) becomes ill and is confirmed to have COVID-19, this may become a bit more complicated. Both you and your ex have a responsibility to do what’s best for the welfare of your child, as well as for the welfare of anyone else in your home. Although both parents agree that the mother should become the custodial parent in just over 51% of custody decisions, that does not automatically mean that a child who is ill should be immediately returned to their mother’s household. In many cases, a physician may recommend that your child quarantine in the home they were already in when they received their positive diagnosis. If that isn’t the home of the primary caregiver, it may be necessary for co-parents to come up with a solution that differs from the normal arrangement to ensure the health and safety of everyone involved. Your child custody lawyers may be able to provide guidance in this type of situation.
That said, even when a child or someone else within their circle has contracted COVID-19, that might not always be a valid excuse to withhold visitation. If the child has recovered from their illness, for example, denying visitation to the other parent would typically be seen as unlawful. On the flip side, a judge could possibly hold a parent in contempt of a visitation order (and therefore deny visitation rights) if the parent is taking unnecessary health risks in regards to COVID-19 or if one parent refuses to offer forms of virtual visitation to the other. But as child custody lawyers will tell you, the outcomes of these scenarios can vary widely and may be based on a number of factors.
In the end, no one could have really prepared for the challenges that our pandemic has caused for divorced parents. It’s likely that none of this was covered in your divorce decree or parenting plan. As such, it’s important to keep your child custody lawyers updated with any COVID-related issues you may be experiencing that are related to the pandemic. The solution is not always clear-cut, but a family law attorney who parents trust can provide the assistance you need during this difficult time.