The novel coronavirus, known as COVID-19, has Californians and residents of most other states limiting their travel, shopping, and socializing. The San Francisco Bay Area led the nation in responding to the epidemic, as six counties adopted a shelter-in-place order starting March 16 (the order was recently extended to May 1). A few days later, the entire state of California joined suit, and now the majority of U.S states are under a full or partial shelter-in-place order. As a result, separated or divorced parents across the nation are left navigating the question of how to co-parent and whether their current custodial arrangements are safe for parent and child alike.
In this article, we’ll offer some insights into your options for co-parenting during COVID-19 by taking a look at three common scenarios:
- You were in the process of negotiating or litigating a custodial arrangement before the outbreak and don’t have a custody order in place.
- You have a child custody arrangement that you think should be adjusted.
- You have a child custody arrangement that the other parent thinks should be adjusted.
Courts are actively hearing some custody cases across the country, including some California courts. We will update this page as new decisions are made.
Co-Parenting Without a Custody Order
Even in the best of times, establishing child custody rights and visitation (parenting time) is challenging and emotionally trying. Trying to schedule hand-offs and parenting time during COVID-19 is even more difficult. In general, parents must come to an arrangement that is reasonable for the children and their parents or the court will make an arrangement in the best interest of the child.
Currently, California courts are still accepting filings on new and active family law cases but most are not actively hearing cases. Cases involving both domestic violence and child custody are typically accelerated to be heard by the courts, but at present most are pushed back at least 3 weeks from their originally scheduled dates. You can find information about the court for your county and their response to COVID-19 on this resource (select your country from the left-hand column).
If you were in the process of negotiating or litigating a child custody arrangement and domestic violence is not an issue, then we recommend an honest and open conversation with the other parent about possible and best-case visitation schedules.
- Strive for consistency and safety and strive to limit your child’s exposure to situations where they may be exposed to individuals who may be infected with COVID-19.
- Try to focus on what’s best for your child today.
If hand-offs under the shelter-in-place order are not safe and healthy for any reason, you are likely not setting a precedent that will impact future physical or legal custody arrangements.
If domestic violence is an issue, then we strongly recommend you get in touch with an attorney who can advise you on specific options for your situation.
You Want to Change the Custody Order
If you have a current custody order in place but want to change your visitation schedule over concerns about COVID-19, the first thing to know is that your current custody order is still active and enforceable. In California, the shelter-in-place mandate allows for custodial arrangements between parents, and travel for custody arrangements is considered essential travel.
If hand-offs can be conducted safely and everyone is limiting their social cohort, then continuing with your current co-parenting is probably best. Children are out of school, which means that stability, predictability, and time with both caring parents is especially important. If no one is exhibiting signs of COVID-19 and no one has had known exposure to the virus, then you should not withhold custody time from the other parent.
However, if you decide that conducting co-parenting hand-offs is not safe while under the shelter-in-place mandate, you can make whatever arrangements you both agree to. Short-term parenting arrangements due to COVID-19 is not likely to set a precedent that will impact your physical or legal custody arrangements. An attorney will be able to advise you on your particular circumstances and legal ramifications.
Your Co-Parent Wants to Change the Custody Order
The courts tend to favor short- and long-term custodial arrangements made in the best interests of children. If your occupation or living arrangement makes limiting your social cohort impossible or puts your child or co-parent at risk, your co-parent may seek to change the custody order.
This is very little precedent set for how courts, especially California courts, will treat custody arrangements during a pandemic, especially when most courts are closed for all but emergency hearings, if they’re open at all.
In general, however, it’s important to know that your current custody order is still active and enforceable. Remember that, in California, the shelter-in-place mandate allows for custodial arrangements between parents, and travel for custody arrangements is considered essential travel. An attorney will be able to advise you on your particular circumstances and legal ramifications.
If hand-offs can be conducted safely and everyone is limiting their social cohort, then continuing with your current co-parenting is probably best and your co-parent should not withhold custody time from you.
However, if you agree that conducting co-parenting hand-offs is not safe while under the shelter-in-place mandate, you can make whatever arrangements you both find more appropriate. Short-term parenting arrangements due to COVID-19 is not likely to set a precedent that will impact your physical or legal custody arrangements.
Navigating Child Custody During the Coronavirus
New articles and findings emerge every day about the challenges surrounding co-parenting during a pandemic. As a New York Times article noted, there are “few guidelines to address the current safety concerns” and family law differs from county to county and state to state.
We will update this publication if California or its counties release further guidance and as more information becomes available.
For now, we encourage you to follow the CDC’s recommendations, abide by the shelter-in-place mandate to the best of your ability, and communicate your co-parenting needs and concerns as effectively if you can. If you need support and guidance, seek the advice of a trusted and experienced attorney.
At Van Voorhis & Sosna, we know COVID-19 is a challenging time. We are prepared to help you navigate these questions and offer legal advice and representation based on integrity, trust, and understanding. Contact us today, or call 415.274.2530 to schedule a free legal consultation.
The content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice. Information on this website may not constitute the most up-to-date legal or other information, and you should contact an attorney to obtain advice regarding your particular issues or problems. Use of and access to this website do not create an attorney-client relationship between Van Voorhis & Sosna and the reader.