Custody Schedule Under COVID-19: Do I Have to Follow the Order?
Throughout the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we have received a lot of questions from clients about how the pandemic affects their custody schedules. Many clients have asked if they are justified in seeking a change in the custody order or withholding custody of their children from the other parent in order to shield the children from COVID-19. While there are some circumstances that might warrant a temporary change in the custody schedule, the answer in the vast majority of cases is that parents should continue to follow the custody order unless both parents agree otherwise or the Court issues a new custody order.
General concerns, such as concerns regarding the other parent’s adherence to social distancing, masking, or vaccination recommendations, would usually not be enough justification to seek Court intervention (or, more drastically, to withhold custody of the children during the other parent’s custodial time). Similarly, some parents continue to work outside of the home, allow their children to attend in-person schooling, and attend in-person gatherings, while other parents may still be working from home and may be averse to such activities. Unless the parents’ children are especially vulnerable, for example due to a serious medical condition, the Court ordinarily is hesitant to intervene in such disagreements over the necessary level of pandemic precaution. Furthermore, it’s possible that a parent who withholds the children from the other parent due to COVID-19—in the absence of a true emergency and without a Court order, police recommendation, or Children and Youth recommendation—will be held in Contempt and/or penalized by the Court.
Specific concerns of exposure to the virus or active COVID-19 infection in a parent, child, or other household member are more likely to constitute an “emergency” situation and may warrant a temporary deviation from the custody schedule or the filing of an emergency petition to the Court. For example, if a parent is exposed to COVID-19 or has an active infection, but nevertheless wants their unexposed children to come over for their period of custody, the other parent would probably have good reason to seek a temporary deviation from the custody schedule. If a parent has been exposed to, or infected by, COVID-19, but their children have not, it’s highly advisable for them to allow the other parent to keep the children until they are no longer in danger of infecting the children.
If you have more specific questions regarding COVID-19 and its impact on custody orders, please contact Tanner Law Offices at 717-731-8114 to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys.