With the United States still dealing with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, many families are continuing to practice social distancing and limiting visits with members outside of their household. While this works for many, it present a unique problem for families in which the parents are divorced or separated. Though your children need adequate time with both parents, you may be concerned about your family’s health at this time, and the risks associated with prolonged exposure to people outside of your child’s primary household. This might lead you to wonder whether or not it’s possible to refuse visitation or shared custody during this pandemic. Keep reading to learn more about this.
Court Orders Still Hold Precedence
Simply put, the pandemic does not outright override child custody orders. Visitation rights and shared custody arrangements set forth by the court still take precedence, even in current circumstances, so we don’t recommend that you simply refuse visitation rights to your ex. This can cause you to be held in contempt of court, and you may find yourself dealing with some very unpleasant consequences as a result.
Of course, your children’s health is a priority, and so it’s natural to want to find a solution that allows you to comply with court orders while still protecting your family. Here are a few options that could be available to you, given the current circumstances.
Make Alternate Arrangements with Your Ex
Both you and your ex love your children and want to ensure that they are healthy and safe. So, now is the time to sit down with them and discuss what changes could be made to protect them. You might be able to agree on virtual visitation via video conferencing, or agree to only have visits in the children’s primary residence to reduce exposure to others. In an ideal situation, you and your ex will be able to find a temporary arrangement without involving the court; just make sure you get the agreement down in writing so that there are no misunderstandings. It may also be worth doing this with your lawyers.
Get a Temporary Modification from the Court
If you and your ex can’t come to an arrangement outside of court, you do have the option of request a child custody modification from a judge. This is something you should only pursue if there are extenuating circumstances that cause you to sincerely fear for your child’s health at this time. For example, if your ex is a healthcare worker who is frequently in contact with COVID-19 patients, or if your child or another member of the household has a condition that puts them at a higher risk of deadly complications, you may appeal to a court.
While a complete suspension of parental visitation or joint custody for the duration of the pandemic is unlikely, a judge may be able to work with you, your ex, and your attorneys to come to a new arrangement that both parties are more comfortable with. Please note that you must provide a substantial reason why visitation with your child’s parent would put your child at immediate risk.
If Your Ex Is Experiencing Symptoms
If your ex knows they’ve been exposed to someone with COVID-19, or if someone in their household is experiencing symptoms, we would sincerely hope that they would temporarily cancel any visits with your children. However, if they are still insisting on seeing the children despite the immediate risk to your child’s health, we strongly recommend that you take the matter to court.
Current health guidelines require those who have been exposed to COVID-19 to self-isolate for 14 days, or until they receive a negative test result. Those with symptoms should be quarantined until symptoms have completely abated. Your ex’s refusal to comply with these guidelines despite the danger to your child could be viewed as negligent behavior, and the matter should be addressed before a family court judge.
Dealing with child custody is never easy, and the current pandemic has made it even more difficult for parents everywhere. If you’re having child custody issues in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, please reach out to one of our child custody lawyers. While the current circumstances may be new and strange to everyone, our knowledge and expertise in child custody arrangements can help you to find a solution that works for you and your ex while taking every possible step to protect your children’s health. Give us a call to schedule a consultation today.