In March 2020, California Governor Newsom enacted a statewide shelter-in-place order which required 40 million residents to stay home. Each household was requested to follow rules within their home to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
However, if parents are separated or divorced and children are spending time in both homes, staying healthy is more complicated. First and foremost, regardless of the circumstances surrounding your split from your spouse or partner, we always recommend putting your child’s welfare and best interests before your own. With that in mind, here are some options to consider right now.
5 Child Visitation Tips During the Pandemic
Child custody can be a complicated and stressful issue under the best of circumstances. Here in Sonoma County, many families are bound by a child custody agreement which establishes a parenting schedule. During these difficult times, parents should understand the following obligations.
1. Maintain the status quo. Established custody and visitation orders are not modified by shelter-in-place and social distancing rules. In general, parents must abide by current schedules unless both parents agree, or a judge enters a temporary custody order. If you deny visitation based solely on the pandemic, you may be found in contempt and sanctioned by the court.
2. Modifications. Circumstances may arise which allow a modification of a prior custody order. For example, if a parent has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the other parent can petition for a temporary change in visitation or custody until the parent has recovered. Or if a parent works in a high-risk area such as a hospital where they could be exposed to the virus, or if the child has a high risk of contracting the virus or an underlying health condition, you might have grounds to justify a temporary change in custody or visitation.
3. Without an agreement. Unless you believe your child’s safety is in imminent danger or the other parent is taking risks that are harmful to your child’s health, you should not violate a pending court order. Instead, document all parental discussions, including your requests and the other parent’s response, and contact your family law attorney to determine if you have grounds to request an emergency custody modification.
4. Temporary custody modification. Consider postponing face-to-face visits until circumstances change and the child can be safe in both homes. Once the situation is resolved, schedule make-up visits for the parent who lost time with the child. In the meantime, modern technology has made it easier to stay connected through video chats, texting, phone calls, emails, etc.
5. Court involvement. Most courts are closed to all cases except essential and emergency matters. Extreme circumstances, such as when the health and safety of a minor child is involved, might qualify as an emergency situation requiring a modification or restraining order. Do everything you can to resolve your differences without court involvement.
We are all treading in uncertain waters right now. To make the best parental decisions right now, we highly recommend using an experienced family law attorney to navigate the system.
At Evans Kingsbury LLP, we offer decades of Sonoma County family law experience with a compassionate approach. Whether you need a tough courtroom advocate, or a savvy settlement negotiator, our team provides the personalized legal guidance you need to provide the best care for your family.
Contact us today at (707) 596-6090 to set up a free 30-minute consultation to discuss your specific parenting situation. Or fill out our simple form and we will contact you shortly.