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COVID-19 and CUSTODY/VISITATION

Published April 23rd, 2020 by East Coast Legal Group, P. C

With the recent outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in the United States, and the ensuing lock down and panic attendant to the disease, it is not a surprise the custody and family matters have been disrupted. We received numerous calls from concerned parents about whether their custody order is still viable in a “lock down” situation – is transferring children between parents considered an essential service?

The short answer is, “yes” – a Court order is a binding requirement that trumps a general stay-at-home requirement. There are some exceptions, however, and we encourage you to give us a call if any of these situations are occurring in your family:

  1. There is suspected family abuse: There is nothing like being locked in the house with your significant other, or children, to bring out the best…and worst in people. There is a certain value in several hours apart from each other on a daily basis, and when this “break” is taken away, some people experience severe depression and even aggressive tendencies. If you suspect, or are the victim of, domestic violence, contact us immediately. If the situation is urgent, contact the police first! From a practical standpoint, we can obtain protective orders/peace orders that will ensure you are safe.

  2. One parent has contracted the Coronavirus/COVID-19: We would hope that if a parent is sick, they would voluntarily waive their visitation until they were better, and had “quarantined” themselves sufficiently to ensure that no further infection was anticipated. However, we have run into several cases where parents have been unwilling to voluntarily waive their custody in light of illness. Do not be that parent – and if you are concerned that your child(-rens) another parent is sick, and refusing to waive visitation, contact us immediately! Remember: You do not have the right to unilaterally break a judge’s order. Doing so could subject you to a significant legal battle, court costs, and punishment by the Court. Instead, retain competent counsel. There are emergency court proceedings setup for just such occurrences – we know how to handle this, and we can file on your behalf.

  3. Financial distress: Sadly, with the lockdown in Maryland, DC, and parts of Virginia, many people are out of work. This had led to severe hardships in several instances. Individuals who never thought about a food bank, are no dependent on donations to make their meal and/or rent. This is not a basis for withholding visitation. Do not go there. Unless the home is unsafe, you have no basis for stopping visitation – and you need a legal professional to make the argument the home is unsafe. Do NOT do this on your own (see point 2 above!). If you feel the other parent’s home is unsafe as a result of the disease or COVID situation, contact us! We will help you ensure that your child(-ren) remain safe by assessing both your current custody order, and the indications you believe constant the risk in the other home. If appropriate, we will file an emergency petition, ensuring both you and your child are safe.

Other common questions we receive are whether a parent who is running a fever, or otherwise sick, should be allowed to have his/her visitation time. The answer is: unless you have seen a doctor, order showing that the parent has COVID-19, or have similar concrete proof, merely having a fever, or being sick, is not grounds to deny visitation. Conversely, if you are the parent that is sick, get tested. If you do, in fact, have the Coronavirus, and you did not get tested when you should have – that can be grounds to strip you of custody for intentionally endangering your child. It is the duty of the custodial parent (i.e. the parent who has the child at any given point) to provide masks and gloves, as appropriate, for the child. However, young children (generally under 5) do not need protective gear – so do not pick a fight for the younger ones.

These are tough times. We can help sort out disputes and problems before you end up in court. Often a call or email is enough to get everyone back on the same page, regarding proper handling of custody during this crisis. Have questions? Call us! We’re here to help, and there is no charge for an initial consultation.


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