Amid the spread of COVID-19, we are all facing unprecedented times. As this pandemic continues, regulations regarding safe practices change daily. One thing on the mind of parents sharing custody is whether or not their court order is enforceable.
Rest assured, custody, visitation, and placement are in effect and continue to be enforceable during this period of time. Court-ordered arrangements remain obligatory and should be followed accordingly.
Any parent planning to use the pandemic as a reason to deny access to another parent can expect the courts to come down hard on parent agreement violations. Many judges view time of crisis to be particularly critical times for children to maintain some form of normality.
In cases where parents are willing to work together, they should consider the following: which parent has better resources for the child to complete distance learning, if one parent has a high-risk job, the health of family members, social distancing rules, etc. In the unfortunate event that a parent is required to self-quarantine or is restricted from having contact with others, efforts should be made to allow for parenting time by video conference or telephone.
A critical aspect of co-parenting that may be affected is where the exchange of children takes place. For some parents, the changeover occurs at school. However, if the school is no longer in session, a new location and time will need to be agreed upon. If the exchange is not possible from someone’s home, it’s suggested to find a public place as close to the child’s school as possible to make the exchange.
In the event where no agreement is made, and one parent is refusing court-ordered visitation, the family court will remain open for such emergencies.
In some cases, divorcing parents are living under the same roof because of COVID-19. This can create a volatile situation, especially with minor children. There may or may not be a formal parenting plan. Nonetheless, it is important for parents to act in the best interests of their children, even if they are ultimately going their separate ways. If one parent or both parents cannot do that, however, the family court may decide what is best.
Co-parenting Across State Lines
To contain the spread of COVID-19, most states have instructed residents to remain at home as much as possible. However, children of divorced or separated parents still need to move between households. This can become particularly difficult as states are setting their own guidelines regarding travel and restrictions.
Typically, a child custody order in one state is valid and enforceable in nearly every other state. In some cases where parents live in different states, they may have different orders from their respective states, creating an issue regarding what state has jurisdiction over child custody issues.
In Massachusetts, the Probate and Family Court’s subject-matter jurisdiction over child custody decisions is governed by the Uniform Child Custody Act. Other states adhere to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. Both acts encourage cooperation and avoidance of jurisdictional conflict between courts of different States in order to protect the child’s welfare when litigating custody matters.
As with any custody agreement, the needs and safety of the child come first. If you feel your child is in danger or is being unlawfully withheld from you, contact our office for guidance during these unprecedented times.