In a previous blog post, I answered some of the common questions we receive from parents regarding coronavirus here. As coronavirus is seeming less “new” and the reality of living in a global pandemic is sinking in, parents who share custody of their children have even more questions. The spread of COVID-19 is not a reason to deny parenting time. However, many parents have questions that feel unaddressed by such a statement, so the Family Court Advisory Commission recently issued recommendations that are included in a summary below.
What if I, or someone in my household, tests positive for coronavirus?
Above all, do what is medically necessary and follow a doctor’s instructions. Use common sense and consider both the short-term and long-term outcomes of how you proceed. Every parent makes sacrifices to benefit their children in the long run. If you find that you need to stay away from your child for a while, discuss the matter with the other parent and your child and plan a way to make up that time when it is safe. If a Court Order prohibits direction communication between you and the other parent, speak to your attorney to convey the information. Parents must ensure the best interest of the child while following the advice of doctors.
What if the other parent has supervised visitation, and a supervisor is not available?
Consider alternatives to in-person visitation. Like many businesses, you could try using Zoom for a virtual visit, but also FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Skype. Some of video conferencing services, such as Houseparty, even offer games and activities that can be fun for the entire family.
What about exchanging our child?
If you are like the many people who meet in public places (McDonald’s, Chik-fil-a, Walgreens) to exchange your child, it may seem like the social distancing guidelines demand a change. If the exchange location is established by a Court Order, consult with your attorney before making any changes. However, it is reasonable to speak to the other parent and consider alternative locations for exchanges. For example, a large parking lot at a grocery store probably has a decent number of people but also enough space to permit following the CDC guidelines for social distancing.
What about parenting time in public places?
If visitation is to occur in a public place, it should continue in locations that are permitted under the Mecklenburg County and North Carolina stay-at-home orders. For example, visitation could happen by having a picnic in a large park. Playgrounds are closed, but there are many parks with walking trails, large open fields, and other areas suitable to recreation that follows health and safety guidelines.
What about holidays?
Many families define a child’s holidays according to the calendar of the school the child attends. Although the school buildings are closed for safety reasons, the school calendars can still provide the same guidance for holidays, including the start day of Summer Vacation.
What if the other parent isn’t taking this seriously enough?
It is always best if parents can work together for the safety and well-being of their children. Poor or unsatisfactory communication regarding precautions for the Coronavirus pandemic is likely an insufficient reason to withhold a child. If communication is fine, but you believe that the other parent is taking inadequate steps to ensure the well-being of your child, you need to contact an attorney. The North Carolina Courts have issued guidance saying that “a parent is not permitted to deny parenting time based on…a parent’s belief that the other parent’s precautions are insufficient.” If you believe that there are factors that make the child’s risk significantly higher with the other parent, speak to an attorney about filing a Motion for Emergency Custody. Meticulous consideration needs to be taken, however, because the Court would need to find that being with the other parent was more risky than being with you and that the difference amounted to the child being at “substantial risk of bodily injury.” The other parent being an essential worker and continuing to work is unlikely to be enough.
If the situation is not one where the Court will change custody, it may be more productive and helpful if you try to talk to your co-parent as you would any other family member. However, we understand that it may be difficult or impossible through no fault of your own. If co-parenting cannot work for whatever reason, please feel free to reach out to us at (704) 919- 1519.