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COVID-19 and Child Custody Orders

Following a parenting schedule can be stressful for several families and now that the COVID-19 pandemic has officially taken over, parents are left with more stress and paranoia.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, several States have issued a Stay at Home Order, including California. Governor Gavin Newsom issued a Stay at Home order on March 19, 2020, to protect the health and well-being of all Californians and to establish consistency across the state in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Gov. Newsom’s Stay at Home Order essentially states that people should not leave their homes unless it is for essential services, such as going to the grocery stores, pharmacies, laundry service, gas stations, and your employment.  Visit www.gov.ca.gov. for more information on the CA Stay at Home Order.

With this Order, several families that have a court ordered parenting schedule are left with several questions, most importantly whether leaving their home for exchanges or having their children leave their home to be with their other parent is considered an “essential service”.  The CA Gov.’s Stay at Home Order does not specify such actions as being essential.  Parents want to make sure their children are safe and remain at home in self-quarantine with them, however, since parents are separated, their children cannot be with the both parents at the same time.  The question then becomes, who should the children stay with? The parent with primary custody? But what if both parents have joint custody?  Additionally, parents begin to question whether their children are safe in the other parent’s home, because they fear their children being exposed to the Coronavirus or spreading the Coronavirus.

The parent’s court Order does not state what to do in these types of situations and the Courts are closed, so neither parent can seek Court intervention.  This is when it comes down to the parents making the decision, specifically what is best for their children.  This is the time when parents should work together and co-parent, this situation will not last forever, but it is crucial to set-aside differences and cooperate.  For instance, if the noncustodial parent lives out-of-state and due to a lock down is unable to exercise their visitation with their children, the custodial parent should ensure the noncustodial parent’s time is made up later in the year.  When both parents reside within the same county, then they should be able to resume their regular parenting schedule.  Despite the current Stay at Home Order not specifying whether exchanging children is “essential”, it does not mean that it is not essential.  It is important for the children to maintain stability and continuous contact with both of their parents.  However, if your child is sick and showing symptoms of the Coronavirus, which include fever, shortness of breath, or cough, then you should immediately take the child to the hospital to get tested and notify the other parent.  It is imperative that the parents notify one another if the child is sick or if anyone, including themselves, in their household is sick.  The children’s health is a priority and parents should follow their doctor’s orders regarding any treatment.

Each parent’s situation may be different, but out of abundance of caution, parents should continue to comply with their court order and if they are unable to, they better be prepared to defend their actions in Court, if it comes to that.  In times like these it is best to show the Court your co-parenting skills.  Despite the Courts being closed, once they reopen and parents seek modifications, Family Law Judges will absolutely look at each of the parent’s actions during these emergency situations.  For more information or assistance in your current family law matter, speak to a Family Law attorney.

By: Anna Encinias, Attorney at Contreras Law Firm

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