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Custody & Visitation during COVID-19

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused disruptions to everyone’s routines and schedules. The Shelter-in-Place orders and school closures have left many parents with custody and visitation orders wondering how to safely continue their timeshare.

While there are no statutes or case law that specifically address the appropriate custody and visitation procedure during a global pandemic, parents can assume the Court will expect them to behave in the best interests of their children. Parents should also be mindful that the Court will very likely take into consideration for future custody and visitation orders how parents conducted themselves during this pandemic. Given the Court’s limited resources during the closure, the Court is only hearing emergency custody and visitation requests in which the safety of the children is directly at issue. Accordingly, parents are encouraged to work together to determine the best schedule for their families.

All current custody and visitation orders remain in place and should be complied with – if it is safe to do so. Parents are encouraged to be flexible during this time if their visitation schedules are not practical or safe during this health pandemic. To ensure both parents are able to maintain frequent and continuing contact with their children, but also guarantee their children remain safe and healthy during this time, communication is key.

Parents should discuss whether continuing their current visitation orders places their children at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19. For example, if the current orders require the child to fly to facilitate visitation, parents should consider rescheduling that visitation for a later time when it is safe for the child to fly. This does not mean one parent simply loses their visitation time, it should be made-up when safe. If visitation needs to be rescheduled, parents should increase virtual visitation with the non-custodial parent to ensure the child can still have frequent and continuing contact with that parent.

On the other hand, if exchanges of the children do not put them at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19, then the visitation schedule should continue as ordered. Even if exchanges can be done without putting the children at risk of exposure, parents could consider reducing the number of exchanges to reduce the children’s exposure, or modifying their visitation schedules to better accommodate the children’s new learning schedules.

Another thing to consider when discussing continuing or modifying visitation during COVID-19 is whether one parent has been exposed to COVID-19. Parents should communicate if they believe they, their children, or anyone else in their home has been exposed to COVID-19 or is symptomatic. Visitation with a parent who has been exposed to COVID-19 should be rescheduled until that parent has self-quarantined according to the CDC guidelines, or tested negative for COVID-19. Virtual visitation with the exposed parent should be increased during this time.

Likewise, if one parent has an essential job (i.e. grocery clerk, nurse, doctor, delivery, etc.) and is at a higher risk of exposure to COVID-19, parents should consider whether it is safe for the child to be in that parent’s care during this time. This type of situation should be addressed with caution, as there are no blanket rules. For example, recently, a circuit judge in Florida issued an emergency order to suspend visitation with a child’s doctor mother, at the request of the father. Mother appealed and the Third District Court of Appeal stayed the circuit court’s order, but has not issued a final ruling on the matter.

Similarly, to ensure their children are safe in both homes, parents should communicate to confirm they are complying with the CDC guidelines and enforcing those guidelines for their children (i.e. social distancing, washing hands, etc.). Both parents are responsible for ensuring their children are complying with CDC guidelines.

Every family’s situation is unique, and what is best for your children during this pandemic may require some flexibility with your current orders. Parents are encouraged to work together, now more than ever, to ensure their children are safe and healthy. Keeping the lines of communication open with the other parent will be essential during this time. If you encounter challenges with the other parent when trying to navigate custody and visitation during this time, keeping a paper trail will be helpful, and you can always seek the advice of our attorneys to help guide you.

Here at Mello & Pickering we can help you with your custody and visitation concerns. With 35+ years of combined experience, we can help ensure that your best interests and those of your children are protected.

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