By Danielle Walle

On March 24, 2020, Mecklenburg County, North Carolina announced that it was issuing a stay-at-home order to slow the spread of COVID-19. Since then, there have been many questions about what this means for child custody – for both people with child custody orders and without. Since this situation is unprecedented, there is of course substantial confusion for everyone involved. However, a review of the stay at home order provides several provisions that show it is permissible to exchange children with and without a court order.

The 12th page of the stay-at-home order explicitly states that travel for a custody agreement is essential, “travel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement.” Furthermore, a custody agreement is not defined, but it would certainly include a custody order and would arguably include any custody agreement, written or not. Notably, anyone traveling for this purpose should  comply with all coronavirus precautions and practice social distancing. Simply put, this means don’t plan a custody exchange along with a party of 15 of your closest friends!

So what happens if you don’t have an order or written agreement? Page 11 of the provision states “travel to care for…minors,” while page 12 permits “travel to return to a place of residence from outside the jurisdiction” and travel “required for non-residents to return to their place of residence outside the County.” Page 5 allows for leaving the home for “outdoor activity” so long as the individuals comply with Social Distancing Requirements. The definition of outdoor activity includes walking and going to “open outdoor recreation areas,” so certainly an exchange could happen outdoors as an outdoor activity. Further, page 5 also permits leaving the home to take care of others, which includes transporting family members.

While the coronavirus pandemic is giving us anxiety about our health, the economy, and finding toilet paper, it does not need to be a time of strife over child custody. Maintaining as much routine as possible is likely to benefit you and your children. Be certain to follow the principals of hygiene put out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including washing your hands, maintaining at least 6 ft’ of distance, and alerting your family if you or someone you have been in contact with has been exposed to COVID-19.

If you have questions, concerns, or would like a copy of the current order, please reach out to me by calling (704) 919-1519 or via email at Danielle@yourncattorney.com.