No matter whether your divorce was divisive or amicable, COVID-19 is likely to change the rules you and your ex have gotten used to. Though family courts have been stating that existing custody orders should be followed during the pandemic, in many (or even most) cases, that’s easier said than done. There may be a number of variables from one household to another that make a living situation safer for the child.
The answer to the title question is that you certainly can’t prevent your child from seeing your ex-spouse for frivolous or vindictive reasons, but you may be able to alter parenting time through informal agreement or, if really necessary, by emergency court order if the child will otherwise be at grave risk.
This is a good time to consult with an experienced, insightful family law attorney like the ones at Orlando Family Team where we are taking every possible precaution to keep you and your family safe. During this difficult time, we are available to connect with you by telephone or video conferencing.
Base Hard Choices on the Data You Have
As a divorced parent, custodial or not, you should be asking yourself the following questions before you consult your child custody attorney:
- Are you and your ex both able to work remotely, or does one have to put him or herself in harm’s way during the work day by using public transportation or by being unable to maintain social distancing?
- Are either of you exposed to COVID-19 on a regular basis through occupation, e.g. by working in a hospital or nursing home?
- Do either of you live in a multi-family dwelling with common areas such as lobbies, elevators, laundry rooms, or mailrooms that cannot be avoided by the child?
- Are either of you under quarantine due to exposure or to having the illness?
- Do either of you have an intimate partner, roommate, or relative living with you who may be exposed to COVID-19 on a regular basis because of that individual’s occupation or habits?
- Are you both equally able to supply food and sanitation supplies for the duration of the restrictions imposed by the pandemic?
Presumably, both of you love your child and are equally invested in keeping your child healthy. Nonetheless, it is difficult for one parent to be kept away from his or her child for long periods, especially when the child is disoriented by being out of school, not having play dates, unable to visit playgrounds or engage in sports, and dealing with unavoidable anxiety by hearing and seeing constant references to a deadly disease.
Although social distancing and shelter-in-place regulations don’t directly affect custody orders, and you may be subject to future penalties if you defy current custody arrangements, you have to use your own best judgment to keep your child from getting sick. This is a wise time to consult with a skilled and trusted family law attorney who will be able to help you stay on the right path.
Although no one knows for certain how long we will be living under the cloud of the pandemic, for the moment it may be best to make an informal arrangement with your ex rather than to try to legally alter your custody agreement, especially with so many courts closed. If your ex won’t cooperate, however, your attorney will help you to take the proper steps so that you avoid disobeying court orders by keeping your child away from her/his other parent. Unless you follow your attorney’s directions, refusing to allow your ex access to the child may result in your being found in contempt of court and result in sanctions, such as attorneys’ fees.
If you feel that your ex is putting, or will put, your child in imminent danger, your attorney may be able to obtain an emergency temporary child custody order from your local family court. If your ex has been directly exposed to COVID-19, but is refusing to self-quarantine, for example, a judge may decide that it is in your child’s best interest for parenting visits to be postponed for a certain length of time. If this happens, you should expect that your ex will be entitled to more or longer visits with your child once the designated period of separation is over.
Orlando Family Team Can Provide a Voice of Reason at this Difficult Time
As knowledgeable child custody attorneys, we will advise you on how best to approach your ex to resolve this predicament with the least turmoil. In many cases, taking a friendly, proactive approach in such a troubling situation may make future negotiations between the two of you easier in the future.
Here are some suggestions that may enable both of you to spend time with your child without increasing risk factors:
- Make the transportation between your two homes safer by driving the child back and forth and avoiding public transportation, even, if need be, by renting a car that has been sanitized for the trip
- Decide that, for the safety of the child, parenting time will be spent outdoors with proper social distancing, for example, walking through the park, sitting at separate picnic tables, or bicycling at a safe distance from one another
- Agree that the more at-risk parent use Facetime or Zoom for safe parenting time or play games with the child over the internet, sending frequent text messages and pictures to one another
- Agree to adhere to the same standards in both homes relative to handwashing, sanitizing surfaces, etc. so that both parents feel their child continues to be protected wherever she/he is
- Agree that the child will make up lost time with the other parent once it is safe to do so and commit to arranging for this
Is all this distance necessary when children are less affected by COVID-19 than adults?
Some people question whether we are being overly cautious since most children do not, even when they are infected, get very ill. The fact is, though, that no one knows why one child infected with COVID-19 runs a slight fever while another has to be intubated. We are aware that special precautions have to be taken where children with compromised immune systems or pre-existing conditions are concerned, but do not know enough about this illness to predict which healthy children are most at risk.
Don’t Make Waves When the World Is Already Off Balance
Now is the time for all of us to come together to fight COVID-19 and this applies to divorced couples as much as to everyone else. Consult with Orlando Family Team for legal information and support. Negotiate as politely as possible with your ex-spouse. Remember: keeping your priorities straight will help keep your child healthy.