The Coronavirus and COVID-19 is creating some of the most unique circumstances we have experienced in a lifetime. Many compare the shutdown of our society today to the days following the attacks of 9/11, but this seems so much different. In 2001, we were all told that we need to make an effort to get back to a normal routine and live our lives as soon as possible. Today, we are being told that our normal lives are going to have to be kept on hold until further notice.
One of the issues that has arisen, and which we are experiencing now on a daily basis, is the question about parental access (visitation) during this "social distancing" mandate. Many parents are subject to custody and visitation orders with regard to their children in common, and we are repeatedly being asked, in many different versions of the same question, if the visitation orders are still in effect. For example, "Do I have to release my children to the non-custodial parent during this "stay at home" mandate?"
Generally, the simple answer is that all Court orders for custody and visitation (or parental access) remain in effect. But this is not the end of the analysis. During these unusual circumstances, parents should try to work together, in the best interests of the children involved, and should use their combined judgment for the safety of the children. For example, children with underlying health issues, such as asthma, diabetes, or other pre-existing conditions which place them at an elevated risk of harm if infected probably should be insulated from contact with other people as much as possible. Parents should understand this and work together, and arrange for alternate contact with the children, such as telephone, Skype, Facetime or Zoom videoconferencing.
If both parents are healthy, and the children are healthy, and the parents can agree on logistics for physical exchange and appropriate isolation of the children at the residence of the non-custodial parent during the visitation, there is no reason for there to be any disputes over parental access. If either parent is experiencing symptoms or has been on contact with someone who has been diagnosed with Coronavirus, the parents should work together to separate the children from the affected parent as soon as possible, regardless of the interim custody order, even if it means temporarily moving the children to the non-custodial residence. The health of the children should be of the utmost importance to both parents.
If the parents agree to suspend or reduce physical visitation and opt for virtual visitation instead, they should also plan for make-up time at a later date. Remember, visitation and parental access is as much a right of the child as it is a right of the non-custodial parent. Custodial parents should not be treating the current health crisis as an absolute right to keep the children away from the non-custodial parent. There should be mutual agreement and discussion regarding any suggested modification to the existing parental access orders. As always, if either party attempts to take the law into their own hands, there could be consequences later.
If you have other questions or concerns during this Coronavirus health crisis on any matrimonial or family law issue, the legal team of Wisselman, Harounian & Associates, P.C. remains ready to offer advice and assistance. We remain available by email, phone and video consultation.