Shared Custody During COVID-19
The Governor has Ordered Me to Stay-At-Home, but the Judge has Ordered Me to Share Custody with My Ex – What Do I Do?
We are certainly in an unprecedented and unpredictable time right now. The first and most important thing you need to do is read your Custody Order. Make sure you understand what you are required to do and, if you have questions, reach out to a family lawyer for clarification. Several of us here can help.
Next, it is important to understand that although we are under a statewide Stay At Home Order, custody orders are not suspended and regular custodial exchanges are to go on as ordered during this time. In his latest executive order, Governor Cooper specifically deemed “travel[ing] between one’s place or places of residence for purposes … [of] child custody or visitation arrangements” as essential activities permitted during the Stay-At-Home order. For those of you in Wake or Durham County where Stay At Home Orders were already in place, much like the statewide Stay At Home Order, these countywide Stay At Home Orders specifically state that “Essential Activities” include transportation of children pursuant to a custody agreement. It is important to note that to the extent the countywide Stay At Home Orders impose greater restrictions on residents, those local orders will remain in place alongside the statewide order.
What does this mean for you as a parent obligated under a child custody order?
COVID-19 is not a reason to deny a parent their court-ordered custodial time, nor does COVID-19 excuse a parent from following a child custody order.
Parents should continue to follow the court-ordered custodial schedule. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers recently issued a statement advising parents to continue to follow their regular custodial schedule during this time while also taking all precautions recommended by the CDC. In other words, parents are advised to continue exchanging custody but, in doing so, parents should also take all precautions to keep their children safe and healthy.
- Follow all CDC guidelines. Continue to use best practices each and every time you leave your home and remember to use common sense. If anyone in your household is sick or showing symptoms of COVID-19, inform the other parent immediately and stay home.
- Keep a copy of your current Child Custody Order with you. If you need a copy of your Order or if you are not sure that you have a copy of the custody order currently in place, please feel free to reach out to us. In the unlikely event that you are stopped by law enforcement, simply explain that you are transporting your child(ren) pursuant to a custody order and provide the law enforcement officer with a copy of the order if requested.
- Exchange Location. First and foremost, alwayfollow the provisions of your custody order. However, during the custodial exchange itself, it is important to follow the CDC guidelines for limiting the spread of the virus. This may mean choosing a mutually agreed upon alternative location for the exchange if you usually meet in an high-traffic area. For example, if you typically meet at a restaurant or shopping center, you may consider meeting at the grocery store parking lot or school parking lot.
- Supervised Visitation. If a parent is ordered to have supervised visitation but the supervisor is unavailable at the time of the visit, the parents should work together to make sure that parenting time continues in a safe manner that promotes their children’s best interests and wellbeing. If possible, the parents should work together to find an alternative supervisor. If there is no alternative available, the parenting time should continue virtually via FaceTime, Zoom, or other videoconferencing platform. For parents in Wake and Durham County, supervisory services like All Kids 1st and Time Together are not offering their services at this time.
- Safety-Related Issues. If there is an incident during the custodial exchange itself (for example, the child refuses to go with the other parent), try to resolve the issue without involving law enforcement. During this time, law enforcement and first responders must remain available for situations related to COVID-19 and other true emergency situations.
- Transparency Between Parents. Unless communication between parents is prohibited, each parent should communicate with the other regarding the precautions they are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19. The parents should communicate if a child or anyone in their respective home is experiencing symptoms of the virus; and/or if a child or anyone in the home has been tested for COVID-19 as well as sharing the results of said test.
- Be patient, be kind and courteous, stay calm, and try to be as flexible as possible.