By Laurence J. Brock, Esq., CFLS
Updated April 13, 2020
Summary of Child Custody News During the Pandemic:
The COVID-19 pandemic, the Stay at Home order, and the cancelation of the rest of the school year has created a lot of uncertainty and confusion for families in California and throughout the country. Our office is encouraging all of our clients to continue to follow their child custody plans, while using common sense and health and safety precautions. Unless one parent or someone in a parent’s household is sick or showing Covid-19 symptoms, or the children are sick, child custody orders should be followed.
Children are scared and confused right now, and more than ever, they need their parents to cooperate to keep them feeling safe and connected to both parents and families. Over the last couple of weeks, we have seen across the State courts upholding custody orders and requiring parents to continue to follow their timeshare plans unless agreed upon by both parties.
Parents should still follow their child custody orders. Child custody and visitation orders remain in effect, and both parents continue to have all of their custody rights. Driving children to be exchanged pursuant to a court order is considered “essential travel” during this period. However, there may be extraordinary circumstances that require an alternative arrangement.
COVID-19 is not a reason to deny parenting time. Unless otherwise ordered by the court, both parents are considered fit to care for their children and make decisions regarding the day-to-day aspects of parenting while the children are in their care, including following the Stay at Home order, maintaining social distancing, and washing hands. The courts have been issuing emergency orders the last couple of weeks requiring parents to continue to follow their custody schedules (unless there is an extraordinary reason not to follow the order).
The school year calendar is still in effect under parenting schedules. While the schools are closed, parenting time shall continue as if the children were still attending school in accordance with the school calendar. “Spring break,” “summer break/vacation,” or other designated holidays, means the regularly calendared breaks in your child’s school district. The courts are not considering this period of closure to be an extension of any break, vacation, or holiday period, long weekend, nor an early beginning of summer vacation.
Child custody exchanges: During the exchange of the children, all parties should follow the CDC guidelines for limiting the spread of the virus, which may mean choosing an alternate location for the exchanges that has fewer people congregating and less touching of public items. For example, parents who had exchanged at a restaurant might now use an empty parking lot or use “curb side” exchanges if your child is old enough. A curbside exchange is simply where the parent pulls up to the curb in front of the other parent’s house, and the child then walks from the car to the house or the house to the car.
Supervised child custody visitation may still take place if practical: Some of the Southern California Counties have notified the public that court-ordered supervised visits are temporarily suspended, and the time shall be made up with Skype or other video conferencing visits. For the counties which have not suspended supervised visits, such as San Bernardino County, the parents must cooperate in ensuring the visits take place in a safe manner safe. This may mean extra cooperation with the supervisor, or even changing the supervisor to a live-in family member.
Communication with the other parent is extremely important: Communication is often difficult with the other parent, but right now, with lives at risk, and it is vital for the parents’ health and the well-being of the children that parents communicate. Make communication about the children. In these times, with so many people working from home, laid off from work, and the children home all day, parents may decide that a new, temporary schedule works better for the time being than the regular schedule. Communicate by telephone, text, email, or use the free parenting website, www.talkingparents.com. Keep in mind the judges will eventually see and hear about all the communications between the parents and make decisions based on these communications and actions, which can affect custody schedules and parenting relationships for years to come. If the parents agree that visitation shouldn’t occur for one reason or the other, then arrange for make-up visits later, and allow extra video visitation for the time being.