COVID-19 and Child Custody
Child Custody Agreements During COVID-19
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared a worldwide pandemic with the outbreak of COVID-19. Over a few months, the virus has spread throughout the United States, and it has affected many Americans. For those with child custody agreements, it can be a difficult time to deal with co-parents and the children.
Keeping Everyone Safe
While much about COVID-19 is still a mystery, many doctors have suggested that social distancing is one way to slow the spread of the virus. All across the country, local and state governments are closing businesses and schools. The public has been urged to stay home and social distance. Many states have issued statewide shelter-in-place orders, including New Jersey. Under the order, 8.9 million people in the state must stay home. There are exceptions for those who have to leave for essential needs.
Within a family, an effective social distancing plan can be created for children and adults to follow within their homes. However, for those divorced and separated parents, it can be challenging when it’s necessary to go back and forth between several households.
Can Social Distancing Affect Custody Arrangements?
The current social distancing guidelines and shelter-in-place (SIP) orders should not affect your custody order. In most cases, you need to continue your current custody arrangements. However, if the circumstances have changed, you might want to develop an alternative plan for custody. In some extreme cases, a judge may change your custody arrangement during this COVID-19 crisis.
You should know that this is not the time to make changes to your child custody arrangements by yourself. Many courts in the state are making it clear that they will not tolerate parents who deny visitation. If you try to refuse visits for the other parent, you could be sanctioned and held in contempt by the court.
However, some situations may justify a temporary change in child custody, such as:
- The other parent has been exposed to COVID-19.
- The other parent is showing signs of COVID-19.
- The other parent is in a high-risk job with exposure to COVID-19.
- Your child is at risk for COVID-19.
Before you try to deny the other parent visitation, you will want to consult the best divorce lawyer in New Jersey. You never want to change an arrangement without some legal advice. By keeping the other parent away from the child, you might face legal consequences.
Your Child and COVID-19
According to medical professionals, COVID-19 can cause severe respiratory complications, especially for those with weakened immune systems. While there have been few cases of children dying from the virus, those who have underlying chronic health conditions need to take some precautions. Infants and children with immunocompromised systems have a higher risk of complications from COVID-19.
In other words, if your child has any health issues, he or she will be more susceptible to COVID-19 complications. You’ll need to speak to your pediatrician for medical advice to keep your child safe. In addition to that, it’s wise to communicate with the other parent on ways to reduce the risk in both households.
Emergency Custody Orders During COVID-19
The coronavirus crisis has led to many stressful situations for both parents and children. In some instances, it can even be considered dangerous as well. If you believe sending your child to the other parent’s home might pose a health risk, you should petition the courts. The court will decide if there needs to be a temporary change in custody. A judge might even propose alternatives to your custody arrangements. Depending on the situation, you may have to:
- Postpone the in-person visits temporarily
- Schedule makeup visits for a later date and time
- Schedule virtual visits (through Zoom or FaceTime) or daily phone calls
- Communicate by text messages or cards
However, there are times when the other parent will not agree without court intervention. If that happens, you should contact a family law attorney for legal advice. Despite the stay-at-home orders, many attorneys are working by phone, email, or virtual meeting services. You can get the right advice to help you proceed with your specific situation.
If your child’s health is at risk, you’ll need a judge to intervene. Your attorney will have to file an emergency temporary child custody order with the family court. Since COVID-19 is an unprecedented time in this country, family law is changing by the day. You need to have an experienced attorney on your side to navigate these uncharted legal waters.
Family Law and COVID-19
In some states, the family law courts have stated that custody agreements should continue unchanged even if there is a shelter-in-place order for the area. New Jersey takes the same stand on these issues. If there is an emergency situation, the courts are still available to hear a case. You must show proof that child custody or visitation orders need to be revised since the child is in extreme or immediate danger.
For example, if one parent is following stringent COVID-19 precautions and the other has been exposed to the virus, the judge may rule that it is in the best interest of the child to remain with the isolated parent. The courts can always modify future visits or schedule makeup visits for a later time.
In other cases, one parent is ruled as the “primary residential parent.” With that distinction, that parent will take custody of the child within four hours of a shelter-in-place order, and the child will remain with the parent until the order is lifted.
If you are still worried about your child’s health and safety, consider seeking legal advice from a family law attorney. You can get the right advice without running into legal trouble.
Motion to Enforce Visitation
If the other parent is taking advantage of the current situation to prevent visitation, there are some actions that you can take. With a motion to enforce visitation, you can get a family law judge to intervene on your behalf. You can ask the judge to:
- Hold the other parent in contempt
- Reimburse you for expenses incurred for visitation
- Ask for additional parenting time with your child
You need to talk to an attorney in your area to file a motion in the courts. It’s best to file as soon as possible so that a judge can hear your case. During the COVID-19 crisis, you should not let the other parent try to deny visits to your children.
Emergency Basis Cases
With COVID-19 closing down courthouses, many nonessential cases have been postponed. You will need to check with your local courthouse or attorney to see if judges are available to hear your requests. The situation with the virus changes daily, but you should not let it stop you from visiting your child during these challenging times.
Get Advice From the Best Divorce Lawyer
Reach out to the Law Offices of Kelly Berton Rocco if you have issues with child custody. Our firm is available to answer your questions and help resolve any custody-related problems. Visit our website or call our Hackensack office at (201) 343-0078 to schedule a consultation.