Regardless of social distancing, transferring children is considered essential and you should continue following your current physical custody arrangement unless you and the other parent agree to an alternative plan or a judge changes the order. Denying visitation during this time is not tolerated and may result in contempt of court and sanctions.
Section III.A.10 of St. Louis’ COVID-19 stay-at-home order addresses custody decrees by defining an Essential Activity as:
“Necessary care for a dependent in the person’s legal custody, including acts essential for a parent with legal custody to transfer the physical custody of a child”
The Future of Child Custody During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Even with stay-at-home orders being lifted in the next few weeks, COVID-19 can still be a lingering danger to households across Missouri; therefore, there continues to be an expectation of social distancing for the foreseeable future. So what does this mean for child custody and visitation?
Many factors should be taken into consideration over the next several months. For example, without a vaccine, people are still able to contract COVID-19. If a child stays with a parent and that household begins exhibiting symptoms, it is not safe to then transfer the child to the other parent’s house and risk spreading the virus. This could mean that the child should temporarily stay where they are for the 14-day quarantine period, which can certainly be a difficult but necessary action.
Other factors, such as safety of those with pre-existing conditions or jobs that have significant risks (healthcare professionals, etc), should also be taken into consideration during this difficult situation.
Here are five tips from a family law attorney to help you and the other parent navigate child custody and visitation for the next several months.
1. Be Open to New Arrangements
The safety of everyone should be the main concern right now. This includes making new arrangements that not only protect both households, but can also slow the spread of the virus outside the home. Try your best to reach a consensus with your co-parent and compromise as much as possible.
Keep in mind that any current reduction in parenting time can possibly be made up eventually. In the meantime, practice liberal use of video chats, telephone calls, and other forms of non-physical contact for the parent not in possession.
2. Be Cooperative
For people who don’t get along even in the best of times, we can expect the coronavirus to make matters even more difficult. It’s important to be cooperative with each other, and this includes making short-term sacrifices that ultimately keep everyone safe.
Whatever history you have with the other parent, you must try to put it aside and put your best self forward for the sake of the child.
3. Keep Records of Changes to Custody Schedule
Memorialize any changes to the custody schedule and keep track of any contact with the other parent, including discussions about the current custody plan, concerns you have, and solution proposals. If you feel like the other parent is being uncooperative, make your views known clearly and respectfully in writing. An email or text message should suffice as evidence if problems arise at some point.
Also keep track of any missed time so that it can be made up when things return to a relative “normal.”
4. Be Upfront to the Other Parent About Any Health Concerns
Once again, the safety of both households and the general public should be the main priority right now. If any household member has come into contact with COVID-19 or is exhibiting symptoms, it is not safe to transfer the child and risk spreading the virus. Inform your co-parent and medical provider of any health issues related to the child and be sure to take actions that are in the best interest of everyone’s safety.
5. Contact Your Family Law Attorney When in Doubt
These are unprecedented times and there are no universal rules for people to follow. This means that custody disputes are uncharted territory for divorced and separated parents alike.
Keep in mind that while stay-at-home orders are in place, you do not have access to the courts (except in limited circumstances). Therefore, the legal process might not be able to provide you with immediate relief, but you can still talk to a family law attorney at any time to help protect your rights.
Do not make any unilateral decisions regarding custody schedules without talking to a custody lawyer in St. Louis first. You do not want to make a mistake that could result in legal expenses and time fighting in court down the line. Contact the experienced family law attorneys at Rogers Sevastianos & Bante, LLP for help navigating child custody – we’re here for you!