By Danielle Walle

Concerns regarding the health and safety of children have exploded as the reality of Covid-19 has really started to sink in. The state of North Carolina issued a Stay-at-Home Order effective as of Monday, March 30, 2020. There are daily speeches from the president, frequent speeches from the North Carolina governor’s office, presentations from Mecklenburg County officials, and questions from everywhere.

One question that continues to abound I custody cases sounds like a little this “My child’s dad lives in Raleigh, I live in Charlotte. His dad is “essential” and is still working. He is still demanding to have the weekend with our child even with the coronavirus outbreak! He also wants “make up time” because I didn’t send our child to visit with last weekend either. Do I have to send our child to his dad?”

While your gut may be telling you that it’s not safe so of course your child should stay with you, that’s not the right answer. North Carolina’s Stay-at-Home Order specifically states that returning or travelling “between one’s place or places of residence for purposes including, but not limited to, child custody or visitation arrangements,” is permitted as an Essential Activity. We’ve already explained how Mecklenburg County’s Covid-19 Stay-at-Home Order impacts child custody. North Carolina’s Order is worded differently but is essentially the same. Neither orders alter your existing obligation to follow a child custody order. Neither prevent you from exchanging your children with the other parent even if there is no order. 

“But how do I know my child is safe!?”

Naturally, that’s the next question. If you have a Court Order, the order likely contains language that “Mother is a fit and proper person…” and that “Father is a fit and proper person…” That means that both parents have been determined by the Court to have the same capability to properly care for their children while their children are with them. Even if the children are only with mom every other weekend, during those weekends, the Court has ordered that mom is perfectly capable of taking care of the children during those weekends. Which means that mom is capable of making sure she takes proper and appropriate precautions to protect the children from Covid-19 during her time. Just as dad is presumed to take proper and appropriate precautions to protect the children from Coronavirus during his time. It would certainly be best for parents to communicate with one another with understanding and compassion about concerns you have and steps each parent is taking to ensure the health of the children. While appropriate and beneficial, it is unlikely that having these discussions is required.

What about asking repeatedly for assurance that a parent is adhering to appropriate procedures to protect the safety of the children and you receive no answers? Should I just keep my child with me, and face the consequences later?

While this may be the advice you get from Facebook and your friends, what you are really asking is should I act in contempt of the court order? What could happen? While statewide stay-at-home orders and the global pandemic COVID-19 are new, a parent withholding a child because they fear for the safety of the child while with the other parent must certainly isn’t.

Courts are hyper-aware that it is important for children to have relationships with both parents, and that parents have a constitutional right to parent their children. If a Court finds that your fears were unreasonable, the Court may determine that a change in custody is warranted. By withholding the child, you disregarded or otherwise damaged the child’s relationship with the other parent who was appropriately cautious regarding Coronavirus concerns. You do not want to be in a situation where the court sanctions you financially or changes custody so you are the every-other-weekend parent because you ignored the court’s order.

Is your child being withheld from you? Do you have concerns about sending your child to the other parent? Call our office at 704-919-1519 or email us at info@yourncattorney.com.