There has been a lot of uncertainly recently due to COVID-19 as it impacts all aspects of your daily life, including your child custody or visitation schedule. If you are wondering what the healthiest and safest way is to continue to exchange the minor child(ren) pursuant to your visitation Agreement or Order, then there are a few things to be considered. While this is a new and unchartered topic for the judicial system, this article will outline the position that the state of North Carolina and specifically the Mecklenburg County Family Court has taken to address issues that may arise during this period as a result of the pandemic.
Do I need to exchange my child(ren) with my former spouse during the Stay At Home Order?
First, the child(ren) need to be exchanged pursuant to the current Agreement or Order. COVID-19 is not a reason or excuse to refuse to exchange the child(ren). In North Carolina, it is an essential activity to leave your home to exchange your child pursuant to the visitation schedule. The Stay at Home Order allows for “travel between one’s place or places of residences for purposes including, but not limited to, child custody or visitation arrangements.” Also, if your Agreement or Order follows holidays as defined by your child’s school, those holiday definitions still stand per the school or school district’s calendar and the exchanges pursuant to the holidays must still be followed.
What if my normal exchange location is closed or no longer a safe option due to COVID-19?
If you normally exchange at a location that is closed or is no longer reasonably safe due to a large influx of people, then please consult with the other parent or contact our family law attorneys to gain the benefit of our experience to come to an agreement as to a safe and reasonable alternative exchange location. For example, if you normally exchange at a grocery store that is now crowded, then maybe propose moving the exchange to a parking lot.
It is advised to practice social distancing as much as practicable during the exchange and general health and safety tips should be followed. For example, washing hands immediately following the exchange and wearing masks or facial coverings if possible. For up to date recommendations regarding caring for children from the CDC please check this link frequently: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/children.html.
Communication is key during these uncertain times
The best way to handle the changing uncertainty is to talk to the other parent or guardian about how to communicate if you or the child becomes sick. This is the first time that any of us have ever had to come up with a Pandemic Plan. Some points to consider discussing include: precautions being taken by both households to slow the spread of COVID-19, having a plan in place in case someone (parent, child, or family member) gets sick or must quarantine, and how to remotely resolve disputes or negotiate any issues that may arise. Now is also a good time to make sure all parties have copies of all current health insurance information related to the child(ren). If you have a parent coordinator or a co-parenting therapist that previously has helped you address visitation issues, then it is recommended to immediately set up a time for all parties to talk in order to establish expectations and guidelines that will make the transition easier going forward as everybody tries to adapt to this new situation.
In sum, you may not deny or refuse to exchange your child or children pursuant to your current Agreement or Order due to COVID-19.
If the exchange of your child(ren) does not occur according to your current Agreement or Order, and your child is not at risk of substantial danger, then your remedy is to file a Motion for Contempt. The Motion will be heard once the courthouses resume hearing such matters, which at a minimum will be after June 1, 2020. Your attorney is able to safely file your Motion by mailing it to the Courthouse.
If you have any questions about exchanging your child(ren) due to COVID-19 or believe your child(ren) were wrongly withheld from you due to COVID-19 then please contact us at Skufca Law to set up a telephone or video teleconference consultation to discuss your concerns and how we can help.