How COVID-19 Has Affected Custody and Visitation

COVID-19 Custody and Visitation

In the seven months since a global pandemic was declared due to COVID-19, most of the world has had to make significant adjustments in the way they go about their daily lives. These changes have also had an impact on custody and visitation plans.

Lifestyle Changes Due to COVID-19

Even if parents were co-parenting well before the pandemic, significant differences in how they conduct themselves now, and in what they allow their children to do during the time the children are with them have arisen in many families, making custody and visitation plans more difficult to maintain. 

For example, some extremely cautious parents may wish to stick to plans made in March when shelter-in-place orders were in effect, and not allow their children any social interaction outside of home and school. Other parents may allow their children to interact with other children outside, or even within other children’s homes on a limited basis. These differences in approach can add tension to an already tense situation. 

To make matters worse, parents are balancing working from home and virtual or hybrid school arrangements. And it is even more complicated for families with a parent who works in high-risk professions, such as first responders or healthcare workers, or families with a child with a high-risk medical condition. 

These and other changes that have come about as a result of the pandemic may require parents to reassess their custody and visitation plans to accommodate new regulations and schedule changes, whether temporary or permanent.

Modifying Custody Orders

Most states have indicated that during the pandemic, parents should keep existing custody and visitation plans in place, and custody orders that have been already issued will continue to apply throughout the pandemic. But if one parent withholds the children from the other, or if one parent tries to change the existing custody order without the consent of the other parent, the offending parent may still be subject to a contempt proceeding for violating an existing order.

While most courts were open for emergency applications during the pandemic, many courts are only slowly returning to full court schedules now, and the way the courts conduct their business may be permanently altered. When hearings are necessary, in most cases, they are being conducted remotely. 

Courts are seeing a flood of custody cases as a result of the pandemic. Most are encouraging parents to work out modifications or compromises on their own, without involving the court if possible. But there are circumstances under which the courts will review modifications of custody and visitation plans if parents cannot agree, and there is a material change in circumstances that results in a valid concern that keeping the existing plan will result in harm to the child. 

What constitutes a material change in circumstances and harm to the child is determined on a case-by-case basis, and state laws may differ. Some examples might include ignoring travel and quarantine restrictions, not appropriately following new school plans, or violating other public health measures.

If you believe that your child’s other parent’s actions may be causing harm to the safety and well-being of your child, or if modified work or school arrangements have resulted in the need to change your child custody, visitation, supervision and support arrangements, use our site to find a qualified family law attorney who can help.

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Posted - 10/29/2020