Our firm, along with most family law firms around the nation have been inundated with calls from clients asking about the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on their custody orders. Unfortunately, for the time being, there are no definitive answers.
What we do know is that all court orders continue to remain in full force and effect. We also know that the family court is closed for everything, except emergency matters. Please be aware that what the court considers an emergency is different than what most parents may consider an emergency.
We cannot offer definitive counsel because this is new territory and we have no idea how the courts will react to parents who violate custody orders during this time. Remember, when the custody orders were made, almost no one contemplated what to do in the event of a world-wide pandemic and ensuing stay-at-home orders.
We are all trying to figure it out as we go along.
Some parents have resorted to calling the police, but have reported mixed results.
This is a very stressful time for everyone, so please do not add to your child’s stress by making them go between two warring homes. Consider your child’s needs as you make timesharing decisions. Do not poke the bear!
The good news is that this pandemic has caused some parents to refocus their priorities. A few of our clients have reported that the other parent reached out to them to settle their custody disputes.
It has also caused other parents to realize that they need the other parent’s cooperation in order to keep their children safe. Some historically difficult parents are reaching out to modify their timesharing schedule to reflect their new reality, whether it be modified work schedules or unemployment.
It is hard to keep a cool head during times of crisis, especially when it affects our kids.
However, just know that how you behave during this crisis could affect your custody matter. It is safe to say that once the court reopens, judges will be pleased with parents who have put their differences aside and worked together to protect the kids’ health and safety.
And judges will likely be very angry at parents who use this pandemic as an opportunity to block access to their children and/or refuse to cooperate with a reasonable request.
If you believe that it would be dangerous to follow the timesharing agreement because your child falls into a high-risk category, or the other parent is ignoring COVID-19 guidelines, then you will need to balance the risk of disobeying a court order with keeping your child safe.
Once the pandemic is over, you may need to explain to the judge about your reasons for disobeying the custody orders. Just know, that there may be consequences, which include reduced parenting time or even loss of custody.
However, if you truly fear for your children’s health, then hopefully the family court will agree that your decision was reasonable. It is risky and no one knows how the court will respond.
Read our next post: “Tips to Being Flexible and Modifying Timesharing During Shelter in Place”, we hope it will help guide you through this challenging time.
Best of wishes from our Ohana to yours,
The Children’s Law Center