Here at Desai Family Law Group, we wish to stress that COVID-19 is (as of yet) no excuse to violate a court order (including a custody/visitation order). As of March 30, 2020, there are no COVID-19 exceptions allowing a party to deviate from a court custody order.
“That being said, keeping your children safe should be of the utmost importance”, Angel Camino, Managing Partner at Desai Family Law.
Cooperation and “give-and-take” during a custody schedule is the hallmark of positive co-parenting. Judges often applaud parents willing to be flexible, give “make up” time, and generally not treat the children as some prize to be won (through fighting-for and capitalizing all the child’s time), but instead encourage the other parent to have more time.
This is even found in Family Code Section 3020 which provides that:
“The Legislature finds and declares that it is the public policy of this state to ensure that children have frequent and continuing contact with both parents […]
Family Code sec 3040 adds to this:
“In making an order granting custody to either parent, the court shall consider, […] which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the [other] parent.”
What the above two family code sections do is empower (and in fact mandate through the word “shall”) Judges to grant more custody to the parent who encourages the other parent to spend more time with your child. A key component of “co-parenting” is for both you and your ex to each advocate and promote the other. When it comes to children, the other parent’s failure to cooperate with you is not cause for you to withhold cooperation from them.
The above general guidelines regarding co-parenting are even more important during times of crisis, such as the current COVID-19 pandemic. It’s important to remember that even with the governor’s “stay home” order, that order does not excuse a parent from failing to comply with a custody/visitation order. Even if the school is cancelled (and the custody agreement references school), it is likely advisable that visitation should continue as if the school was still in session.
With the above being said, it’s important to note that the courts are consistently and ongoingly interested in promoting the “best interests of the children”. For this reason, it’s important to know that the Court does not want either you or your ex to expose children to the risk of COVID-19. While every family is different, as a family law firm, we generally advise you to be open and transparent with the other parent, let them know if you are at risk of COVID-19 or worse, have been exposed to COVID-19 (we also expect the same from them).
For this reason, make sure when with your child, you honor social distancing, you don’t take them needlessly outside of the home (in efforts to comply with the “stay home” order), and you maintain transparency with the other parent (in letting them know if there are any COVID-19 risks in your home). Be very wary with using your visitation time to take children to extended/distant family members in violation of “stay home” orders and in violation of “social distancing”. Additionally, be willing to offer makeup time if the other parent is quarantined or unable to fulfill their visitation due to COVID-19 concerns. These recommendations are highlighted further if your child has any immune deficiencies or otherwise heightened risks. Regardless, make sure to be open and transparent about doctor appointments, test results, and other updates in you and your child’s life as it relates to COVID-19.
Do not fear that limiting visitation hours will somehow set a precedent that you should have decreased hours after COVID-19 is over. If limitation on visitation becomes prudent, let us structure a way for your child to stay safe while preserving your right to increased custody time after COVID-19 (or at least your quarantine) blows over. Judges are very aware of the unique and hardship-causing situation that COVID-19 is placing our entire country in.
Most importantly: Use Common Sense!
First and foremost, make sure to be up to date with COVID-19 news. Keep yourself informed while properly filtering out fear-based media. Keep your children informed as to COVID-19 and the realistic dangers, while not projecting unnecessary fear into them, do not “freak out” your children; have them be reasonably cautious.
Keep hygiene up (as recommended by the CDC), wiping down frequently touched objects/surfaces (like door handles).
Continue to encourage frequent and continuing contact, do not use the children as a conduit to vent your frustrations in your legal battle. This is an opportunity to show the children what healthy co-parenting can look like. A very healthy lesson for children of all ages.