Managing child custody during the holidays and the pandemic

POST DATE: 12.18.20
Ccha  Family Law

With the holidays just around the corner and spiking COVID-19 all throughout the country, many divorced parents are now faced with an important “what if” regarding the safety of their children - what are my options if my child is at risk of contracting COVID-19 as a result of parental visitation?

It is worth noting that, at this time, going to family members’ homes is strongly discouraged by public health authorities, as close contact with other households and closed environments are known to facilitate secondary transmission of COVID-19. However, making changes to current custody and parenting time agreements is not advisable, unless both parties agree in writing, or there are emergency circumstances. If you prevent the other parent from exercising holiday parenting time during a period they have scheduled parenting time, you risk being held in contempt for violating the court order.

Ccha dec 2020 Managing child custody during the holidays and the pandemic twitter

The Effect of Social Distancing on Child Custody

Custody orders are not directly affected by social distancing and shelter-in-place (SIP) rules, thus parents should continue abiding by existing custody arrangements, unless you or your ex agree to an alternative plan or a judge makes changes to your court order.

Courts are making it clear that denying visitation during this time will not be tolerated and may result in contempt of court and sanctions. Parents, however, may have some valid concerns which could justify a temporary change. This includes scenarios when an ex has been exposed to someone with confirmed COVID-19, your ex is exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, your child is considered high-risk for contracting COVID-19, or your ex has a high-risk job and regularly exposed to COVID-19.

Advice for Divorced Parents

While studies suggest children are experiencing less severe if any symptoms, children considered immunocompromised and those with underlying health issues should still be considered at risk high-risk for complications associated with the virus. Additionally, concerns of children acting as carriers of the virus to those with comorbidities are valid, even in the absence of any symptoms whatsoever.

If your child is asthmatic, is immunocompromised or immuno-suppressed, or has another underlying medical condition making them more susceptible to COVID-19 or resulting respiratory complications, CCHA recommends speaking to your child’s pediatrician for advice, as well as talking to your ex about how to reduce the risk to your child while in both homes.

Emergency Custody Orders

A temporary change of custody is a potential, temporary outcome, if you believe that sending your child to your ex's home could pose a risk to your child's health. In this scenario, one ex can ask the other to consider alternatives such as:

  • temporarily suspending or postponing in-person visits for a period of time (depending on what your child’s doctor says or what health officials are reporting) and scheduling make-up visits for a later date;
  • scheduling daily phone calls and/or visits via FaceTime or Zoom;
  • sending letters, cards, and text messages.

Those are great alternatives, but what about ex-spouses with more contentious co-parenting relationships? Consulting an attorney or mediator is another option, as CCHA attorneys are still working and available for at least virtual meetings.

You may also request for a judge to intervene, if you suspect your child’s health is genuinely at risk. You or your attorney may be able to obtain an emergency temporary child custody or parenting time orders from family court. If one parent is willfully putting their child’s health at risk by taking them to public gatherings without taking precautions, such circumstances may be enough for the court to order a modification. As there are no universal rules for family courts to follow nationwide, custody disputes during the pandemic are uncharted territory for divorced or separated parents and their families. However, family law attorneys at CCHA continue to work closely with the Bar associations and courts to stay on the cutting edge as the Governor and courts continue adapting the judicial system to accommodate families who need help. The attorneys at CCHA can help you navigate custody and parenting time, aiming to achieve an amicable settlement and an outcome in the best interest of the child(ren).

Managing a Parent with COVID-19

If one parent does contract Covid-19 while traveling by themselves or with your child during the holidays, and they want to continue to have visitation with your child, CCHA recommends coming to an agreement with them to shift the custody schedule so that they have more time after they have recovered, completed the self-quarantine period, and are no longer a threat to the child.

Co-Parenting Tips During the Pandemic

Disclose health issues to both parents. If a parent was knowingly exposed to COVID-19 or if either parent presents symptoms that align with the coronavirus, that parent should tell the other parent immediately. Similarly, if the children are attending school with an altered schedule, both parents should be notified by the school if their child was in contact with a student who contracts the virus.

Set boundaries and limitations. Parents should openly discuss plans they intend to execute when they are with the child. This conversation should include specific places the children will be visiting, whether or not a mask will be worn for the duration of the time at this location, length of time at the location, and how large the gathering will be, and with whom (exactly) your children will be closely interacting with.

Consider temporary order modifications. Changing an original visitation order may be appropriate during COVID-19 restrictions. Switching to the children being at each parent’s house one or two weeks instead of going back and forth every few days may be safer and help minimize the risk to everyone involved.

Coordinate safe drop-offs and pick-ups. Health officials are still urging the wearing of face masks to protect against contracting the virus, including when kids are transported between co-parental homes. One parent could provide all of the transportation to maintain a feeling of security, routine, and consistency, as one means of mitigating risk.

Encourage and facilitate virtual visits. If the kids are at one parent’s house for an extended period, give them adequate time for visiting with the other parent virtually through Zoom or FaceTime. Allow children to text or call the other parent or grandparents at the child’s request, especially over the holidays or on important days (ie: birthdays, other important days).

Maneuvering custody after divorce can be stressful, even more so during a global pandemic. If you and your ex need help managing visitation, the family law attorneys at CCHA can help. Our attorneys understand the delicate nature of any divorce and take the time to listen closely to your concerns, working with all parties to help ensure the best outcome possible for the child(ren). Contact us to help with your family law challenges, including child custody during the holidays and the COVID-19 pandemic. Continue to monitor our website and for the most current guidance from the Indiana Supreme Court.