Updated: 2021, Apr 29

Child Custody & COVID: How an Isolating Disease Affects a Separated Family

Like so many families, dealing with child custody in the age of COVID-19 has become even more complicated.
Child Custody & COVID: How an Isolating Disease Affects a Separated Family
COVID-19 and Child Custody Concerns Image/Shutterstock

On March 20, 2020, there were around 254,000 active cases of COVID-19 across the globe. Of those over a quarter of a million cases, nearly six percent were United States citizens. A year later, there are one hundred million closed cases around the globe, and 21 million people still suffering from complications due to the virus.

As of March 25, 2021, over a year since initial stay-at-home orders began, the U.S. accounts for 125 million of the ongoing cases. Regrettably, the country also represents 2.8 million of the worldwide total death count. To fight these ever-growing numbers, people across the world wear masks and social distance to one day return to life’s simple pleasures.

As mentioned earlier, states introduced stay-at-home orders and social distancing standards to combat the infectious airborne virus. For example, on March 20, 2020, Connecticut’s Governor, Ned Lamont, enacted executive ordinances to “Stay Safe, Stay Home” that affected all non-essential personnel. Many state Governors made similar policies early on, but there were few mentions of disputes regarding a child’s custody.

Social Distancing’s Role in Visitations

Today, self-quarantine orders and general social distancing practices do not affect prior custody orders or rulings, so the judge’s final decision can not be altered with the intent of changing the custody’s characteristics to something more “comfortable.” Instead, former partners can agree on constructing provisions for which both parties advocate. Additionally, two parents can ask a judge for a temporary modification to the order.

However, a number of family courts made rulings that positioned visitations as still in progress. These orders allow the noncustodial parent—the parent who does not have custody of their child—continue visiting their child without dismissal. Of course, they must also adhere to the guidelines of their original order as it stands in the current day.

In fact, a refusal from the custodial parent to the noncustodial parent’s visitation rights could swiftly lead to contempt of court charges, penalties, and further hearings. With that in mind, there are some common grounds for concern in allowing for visitations and the transportation of a child between two homes.

What is at Risk for the Child?

COVID-19 has a variety of symptoms that could affect a child, ranging from mild to severe. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the virus can cause a child to experience shortness of breath, fatigue from simple activities, and nausea or vomiting. Fortunately, many health professionals agree that young people are generally less likely to suffer severe consequences from COVID-19.

Referring to children who have contracted COVID-19, Harvard University Medical School’s Harvard Health Publishing states that “many of them have no symptoms,” and that “those that do get sick tend to experience milder symptoms such as low-grade fever, fatigue, and cough.” While this may be true for most children, it does not take into account the effects of the virus on high-risk youth.

Children who currently or once possessed serious medical conditions have a higher risk of fatal consequences if exposed to the virus in any capacity. Some examples of dangerous preexisting conditions include cancer, a chronic kidney disease, or a weakened immune system. Childhood obesity, which is prevalent in the United States, also increases the risk of severe consequences when exposed to the virus.

Potential Solutions to Custody’s Problems

If one parent is exposed to COVID-19 or actively experiencing its symptoms, they present an immediate health risk to their child. That means it will require effort from both parents to maintain visitation and custody rights to ensure their child’s safety.

Firstly, communication between the two sides works best when both parties are open and honest. Each parent should be truthful about where they have been and whom they have encountered. After that, the parents may want to refrain from visitations until they can guarantee a safe passage and environment for the child or children.

In lieu of meeting in person, parents could implement video calls during the visitation or custodial periods. While the child is at one of their parents’ houses, they could use platforms such as Zoom, Google Meet, FaceTime, or even Skype to stay in touch.

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No Precedent for Emergency Custody Orders During a Pandemic

There is a backlog of court decisions regarding child custody during the pandemic. Therefore, seeking a judge’s decision for an emergency custody order may prove to be an arbitrary goal.

Because of the lack of precedent, family courts are more likely to rule in favor of continuing the custody schedule as planned. In Connecticut alone, there are nearly 2,000 pending child custody cases as of the beginning of 2021.

This means that a parent must prove that their child is high-risk in order to make any changes to custody and visitations. It will likely take more court rulings to establish a reliable precedent during these unforeseen circumstances. Until then, a knowledgeable child custody attorney may be able to assist you with these kinds of extenuating child custody modifications.

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Dr. Keith Kantor

Dr. Kantor has been an advocate of natural food and healthy living for 30 years. He is also on the Board of Directors for NAMI.org in G

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