Child Visitation and Custody Orders during COVID-19. Is my Child at Risk?

Father with son child custody

Child custody and visitation is court-ordered following a divorce or a paternity proceeding. These mandated, fixed schedules have been agreed on by both parents, or are decided by a court. There are consequences for contempt of court if a parent willfully refuses to comply. Modifications can occur when one or both parents allege a significant life change, or if either parent has violated an order.

Many parents have serious concerns about child custody and visitation since the advent of COVID-19. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic due to its severity and rapid spread. During this global crisis, many communities have been encouraged or ordered to stay at home with the closure of businesses, schools, and public services. A parent who resides in an area with a stay-at-home order, or restrictions on travel, can find conflict with a custody and visitation order.

There are parental concerns about a child spending time with a co-parent that may put them at high risk. These include:

• Occupational hazards if a co-parent is a health care worker or other public employees
• Parents that continue to attend large group functions or disagree with the Center for Disease Control guidelines for safe interaction with others
• A parent that has had exposure to the virus and is awaiting test results
• A child may have an underlying chronic health condition that makes them more susceptible to serious health consequences if exposed to the virus.
• A parent that is exhibiting symptoms that may indicate they have the virus

Modifications and Limitations during the Pandemic

To reduce potential exposure to COVID-19, parents need to discuss their social distancing practices openly. It is essential to navigate these matters thoughtfully, as parents may have different perspectives on how to keep their children safe. There should be communication regarding concerns or expectations, such as significant travel or exposure to third parties, such as friends and older family members. In some situations, it is best if the parents agree to a temporary postponement of time spent with a high-risk parent. There can be a plan to schedule these visits at a later date. In place of in-person visits, accommodations for frequent video conferencing or phone calls can keep both parents involved with the child. If the parents have a tumultuous relationship and are unable to agree on visitation in the child’s best interest, they can file a petition with the family court for a temporary modification of the child visitation and custody order.

While the child’s safety is paramount, the courts are reluctant to terminate parental rights during a pandemic. A request for modification may be denied unless the petitioner can establish evidence that the custody and visitation order endangers a child. There is no legal standard as to what happens during a pandemic, so a judge has significant discretion in these proceedings.

The Law Offices of Frank P. Remsen, P.A., can Create Viable Solutions for your Most Difficult Legal Challenges

In all family law matters, we offer our clients compassionate guidance through troubled times. We understand that each custody and visitation case is unique. If you have concerns about the safety of your child during this unprecedented pandemic, or other issues regarding co-parenting, contact us at one of our four convenient locations.

We have offices in Lake, Seminole, and Orange Counties and can be reached at 407-289-0753 or 407-898-8822, for a free initial consultation.