Handling Custody and Visitation During COVID-19

On March 11, 2020, the WHO declared COVID-19 a pandemic. Lots of us have experienced unprecedented changes since then. Experts estimate that soon, up to 15% of Americans could be unemployed, with some statistics demonstrating rates already nearing 18%.

Social distancing, isolation, wearing masks… it’s a lot. And it starts to feel like even more to worry about when you’re a parent who juggles custody and visitation, too. At Pedrick Law Group, APC, we’re working hard to clarify some of the details that could influence legal agreements during this unprecedented time.

California is working to ensure that families can stay healthy and connected during the COVID-19 outbreak. If you’ve got questions about custody or visitation within California over the course of the pandemic, we can help.

California’s Social Distancing Rules, Shelter-In-Place, and More

California residents are currently urged to practice social distancing. For more information on what exactly that entails, parents can take a peek at the CDC’s Coronavirus resources. In short, social distancing means:

  • Staying at least six feet away from other people
  • Avoiding large gatherings and crowded spaces

Shelter in Place

California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a groundbreaking statewide shelter-in-place order on March 19. As the most restrictive order of its kind, Newsom’s efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19 presented some confusing restrictions. Californians are only meant to leave their residences for essential needs– but what does that mean? And how does it figure into custody and visitation?

How Social Distancing and Shelter-In-Place Could Impact Custody Arrangements

The short of it: they shouldn’t!

Custody orders and visitation are considered an essential part of a child’s wellbeing. You should not immediately panic or try to find a way to stop or change a visitation schedule. Parents should follow current custody arrangements unless both agree on an alternate plan or a judge alters the custody order. 

California courts have made one thing clear: for now, behavior that goes against custody orders will not be tolerated.

COVID-19 and Children: A Quick Overview

One of the most important components of a plan to keep your child safe is accurate risk assessment. There’s still a lot that we don’t know about COVID-19, but there are some facts that experts have already sorted out for the rest of us. Here’s a quick rundown on what you should know about the risks COVID-19 presents to kids:

  • COVID-19 is highly contagious
  • It can lead to severe to fatal respiratory complications
  • Those with asthma are at high risk of developing respiratory complications in tandem with COVID-19
  • General news indicates that children tend to fend off the virus pretty effectively
    • Experts have shared that children with underlying chronic health conditions are still considered high-risk for developing COVID-based complications

If your child is facing an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 or developing respiratory complications due to the virus, it may be time to have a talk with your ex and your pediatrician. The three of you should work together to come up with a safe plan for everybody — and, if you can’t, California courts can help.

What About My Child’s Health and Safety?

If you have valid concerns for your child’s wellbeing or safety, nobody will blame you. The first step is to try to communicate with your child’s other parent. If you two can come up with a plan for risk reduction, you may be able to sort out custody and visitation all on your own.

Social Distancing Within Families

For family units that all live together, social distancing can actually be pretty simple. Most experts still don’t believe that we all need to social distance from one another in our homes (provided we’re healthy and symptom-free). So, families that live in one home can often easily isolate their group from outside parties.

This, obviously, changes a little when parental separation comes into play. Children who go between homes can still be protected, but some extra precautions can help with safety and peace of mind.

My Ex Will Not Adhere to Social Distancing or Shelter in Place Orders – What Can I Do?

If you fear that your child’s safety could be compromised when they visit their other parent, talk to your ex. We suggest that parents work together to agree to temporary alterations to custody schedules. Some popular changes include:

  • Postponing in-person visits temporarily
    • Based on pediatrician recommendation
    • Always schedule make-up visits ahead of time for a later date
  • Schedule daily phone, FaceTime or Zoom calls to stay in touch
  • Send letters, cards, and texts to keep connected

No parent wants to go without seeing their child — but sometimes, it’s what’s necessary to keep the child safe. Children should obviously not be exposed to individuals who have displayed symptoms of (or tested positive for) COVID-19. If your ex has been ordered to self-isolate or quarantine due to symptoms or diagnosis, visits should obviously be postponed.

Emergency Custody Orders

In some cases, parents cannot resolve custody and visitation issues on their own. If you’ve found yourself in this position, it’s important to contact a local family law attorney who can help you. Most offices now offer consultations over the phone or through a virtual office. It’s an easy way to get the help you need without placing your safety (or the safety of your kids) at risk.

Californians can also monitor updates from California courts concerning family law. The state’s courts continue to encourage parents to facilitate visitation and custody schedules. Remember: if your child’s health is genuinely at risk, there’s a very low likelihood that a court will advocate for visits during a dangerous time.

You can check out a few Supreme Court updates here:

A Lawyer Can Help With Custody and Visitation during COVID-19

Despite the fact that– as of now– custody orders are to remain in place during the COVID-19 outbreak, lots of parents still have questions and concerns about the best steps for their families. We recommend partnering with a trustworthy and experienced family law attorney to address these aspects of your case.

At Pedrick Law Group, APC, our team of attorneys is well-positioned to provide support to parents with custody and visitation during COVID-19. Contact us for more information or call us at 949-388-8682.

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