Parent Withholding and Other Custody Issues During COVID-19

Parent Withholding and Other Custody Issues During COVID-19

It has been 3 months since the novel coronavirus started spreading widely within America, and the nation is still on alert. No cure has been found, and though most states were able to successfully “flatten the curve,” we still have to rely on testing, social distancing, and other preventative measures to keep infection rates low. For co-parents who share custody of one or more children, worries may arise about children being exposed to the virus while switching between households—or becoming asymptomatic carriers that put other vulnerable family members at risk.

There is no easy answer to any parenting question, and this holds true during a pandemic. Emotions can run high when we consider even the possibility of our children facing danger. Combined with the stress most of us are facing, it’s no wonder tempers are flaring when the issue of child custody comes up. Hasty, impulsive decisions may seem necessary to keep your child safe, but a pandemic alone is not an excuse for breaking court-ordered custody arrangements.

Is It Legal to Withhold Children Because of the Pandemic?

Any and all decisions regarding custody are made to protect the best interest of the child(ren). It’s important for kids to have the love and support of both parents whenever possible. Especially because their routines have been disrupted and playdates or camps may be reduced in frequency or on hold entirely, they need to know they can rely on both parents for care and companionship during strange times. Therefore, withholding a child from their other parent because of fears they might get sick will likely be hard to defend in front of a judge.

Some parents are lucky enough to be working from home, while others are on the front lines with little protective equipment. Though the latter may be more at risk to contract the novel coronavirus, ultimately, anyone can be exposed through relatively minor contact or interaction with others. While a child’s risk of infection should be one consideration in custody decisions, it must be countered by understanding of their emotional and mental health needs as well.

Make a “Sick Plan” Before COVID-19 Strikes

So long as both you and your co-parent are healthy, it’s easy to understand how going back and forth can be important for a child’s well-being. However, if someone in either household is infected or even asked to quarantine, the regular rules might need some adjustment. It’s a good idea to figure out a plan ahead of time because accounts from those who have had COVID-19 suggest the illness might severely impair your ability to parent.

One of the challenges of trying to keep your child away from the novel coronavirus is its long incubation period. In 2 weeks, your child may have gone back and forth multiple times—being exposed to the virus or even transmitting it to the other parent. Though caring for a child while sick is difficult, you and your co-parent should consider whether it’s smart to make custody changes after a bout of COVID-19 is diagnosed.

If one parent becomes ill, it’s highly likely the child has been exposed to the virus, meaning they should perhaps be asked to quarantine with that parent to avoid further spread. On the other hand, if the other parent is relatively healthy and does not have risk factors for more severe forms of the disease, risking exposure to the virus may be worth it to make sure the child is cared for if they become ill. Only you and your co-parent can answer these questions in a way that works for you and your child.

Flexible Arrangements Can Adjust with Your Child’s Needs

Because many of us have experienced drastic changes in our lives lately, it’s possible the custody arrangements we originally made do not serve us or our child(ren) as well as they used to. While it’s not okay to decide a child will stay with you because their other parent is an EMT, you and your co-parent could consider modifying your agreement to change its schedule without destroying the balance.

If it truly is easier for you to have your child right now because your co-parent is working longer hours, a family discussion might be in order. One parent might trade extra days now for fewer days (or holidays) down the road so your child has plenty of time with both of you—just in a way that honors your different schedules.

Consider Virtual Visitation

Especially if you and your partner agree to modify your arrangement during the pandemic, you can make sure your child gets to check in with their other parent using FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, or any number of digital services. If you are having trouble finding a way to keep your child safe now while preserving the balance of parent-time, tools like these may help. Just like pick-up and drop-off hours, these times should be inviolable and the other parent should not disrupt digital parent time.

Do You Need Help with Custody Issues?

Sometimes it’s just not possible to come to an agreement with your co-parent. If you find yourself in this situation, you can reach out to our team for help. We may be able to help you enforce an existing custody agreement or negotiate changes that are fair to the both of you. If not, our team of dedicated advocates is here to fight for you in court. The COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult for all of us, especially families with divorced parents. Let us do what we can to make this better for you and your child.

Our attorneys are providing no-contact consultations via phone, email, and videochat. Reach out to us here or call (904) 770-3141 if you have questions about your custody arrangement.


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