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COVID-19 and Child Custody

These are certainly some unique times and something I have personally been through before. The COVID-19 pandemic has created many feelings from scared to high-anxiety for many, while others think it is a lot of hype. I’m not going to try and defend one side over the other, I want to talk about disputes that are happening among divorced parents about who keeps the children during widespread school closures and differences in opinions on whether children should be allowed to go out at all even if they are following guidelines set forth by the CDC and the state.

If one parent has sole, physical custody then that parent’s decision will typically prevail. However, if the situation were to occur during the week such as Spring Break as it did this year, disagreements can occur. Most court orders require that the child be returned to the custodial parent the night before school starts back.  A few cases in Texas required the Texas Supreme Court to settle the issue in a second emergency order of the pandemic. The dispute between parents began when the noncustodial parent that had spring break visitation took the custodial agreement literally, for what it said, “the children shall be returned the night before school starts.” Of course, the custodial parent did not agree with this and then add the mounting tension due to the pandemic, things didn’t go so well for some. The Texas Supreme Court determined that the originally published school schedule would control. If parents can’t agree on when the child should be returned, I believe this is a good rule of thumb to follow for all parents regardless of the state you live in. Doing so, will not only keep the disputes between parents to a minimum, but it will also keep the children on their regular routine – well, as much of a regular routine as they can have during these trying times.

One parent may take the pandemic more seriously than the other, which can create a problem.  Again, if it is a sole, physical custody situation the primary custodial parent will have the authority to make decisions on the child’s behalf. If it is a joint custody situation, the best outcome is that both parents sit down together and hear one another out. If the parents can’t agree, then a ruling by the courts may be required such as the return of the child question in the Texas cases.

If no “shelter in place” order has been declared, then there is no reason why visitations cannot go on as scheduled as long as the children are safe, neither parent has been exposed to the virus, and both are taking recommended precautions by the CDC and local authorities. If one parent has been exposed to the virus, then I would encourage you to get creative to make sure the child still has contact with that parent. Today’s technology allows for many alternate methods of communication – texting, voice calling, and FaceTime.

We have never experienced anything like this, things are changing daily if not sooner, I urge you to work together and be flexible with one another. Although the children show it differently, I can assure you they are stressed too. Their routines have been disrupted and many have plans outside of school that unfortunately aren’t possible right now.  Sadly, older children will most likely not have a graduation ceremony and if they do, it will be postponed to a future date. Their plans are altered as well, keep this in mind. Help your children by keeping the lines of communication open. If one parent refuses to comply with the Court Order based on unfounded concerns as a way to purposely interfere with the other parent’s ability to the children there may be legal ramifications later on once things settle down. I can’t think of a better time to really focus on the well-being of your children. For all things child custody related, contact Kevin Hickey Law Partners to schedule a consultation.  Stay safe and follow all government guidance regarding this pandemic.