Custody and Parenting Time Amid the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak and Quarantine

The last couple of weeks have marked new and uncharted territory in all New Yorker’s lives. Governor Cuomo has issued sweeping executive orders on a weekly, if not daily basis, restricting more and more businesses and group activities, as the state attempts to get the Coronavirus outbreak under control. Amongst the most recent orders is a directive that all non-essential workers stay home, and that New Yorkers stay in their homes as much as possible.

So how does this apply to shared parenting time when children’s parents are separated? Is the non-custodial parent still permitted to exercise their parenting time? Will the custodial parent risk being deemed in violation of a court order if they determine that it is not in the child’s best interest to leave the home? The answer is not straight-forward.

The first priority should be the health and safety of everyone involved. How many people live in the non-custodial parent’s home? Are any of them sick? Has anyone in the non-custodial parent’s home been exposed to the Coronavirus? Is the child or anyone in the custodial parent’s home high risk? Does public transportation need to be utilized in order to transport the child from one home to the other? These are just some of the factors that should be considered when determining the best course of action.

Ideally, parents should come up with a game plan together, but this is not always possible. Attorneys for Children appear reluctant to weigh in on this issue and be held responsible if they make the wrong call. If, either by agreement or over objection, it is determined that the child should need leave the home for an extended amount of time, other modes of communication, especially video chat, should be used as often as possible. Additionally, a log should be kept of all missed visits, and the custodial parent should be prepared for the non-custodial parent to exercise make-up time once the threat of COVID-19 has passed.

While the Courts are not currently entertaining non-emergency applications, those who plan to use the shutdown to defy court orders and withhold their children without good cause should bear in mind that doing so could come at a very hefty price. This situation is temporary. The Courts will resume their functions, and judges with backed up schedules will not be happy to hear that someone used this crisis as a means to wilfully disobey a court order and keep a child from having meaningful contact with their other parent. Consequences to these actions could be as severe as loss of custody.

If you are not sure how to handle your parenting time schedule in the wake of the Coronavirus quarantine, or you feel that your child is being unjustifiable withheld, please contact us. We can advise you how best to proceed, contact your ex-spouse or their lawyer and attempt to resolve the matter, and document the situation to be addressed when Court is back to running at full capacity.

We wish everyone safety and health during this time.

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