COVID-19 has presented many families with challenging decisions about the safety of shared custody and how to best move children from house to house during visitation. Unfortunately, some parents have also seized the opportunity to forbid the other parent from seeing the child under the guise of protecting them during the pandemic. Courts take violations of custody guidelines seriously, and you might have a case for contempt during COVID-19.
What Could Lead to a Charge of Contempt During COVID-19?
In the eyes of the courts, the existence of COVID-19 is not a valid reason for throwing a legally valid child custody agreement out of the window. While family activities might change and methods of getting the child from one place to another might need to be modified to limit exposure and stay safe, courts are legally obligated to continue to enforce custody and visitation orders. What are some examples of situations that could lead to a charge of contempt during COVID-19?
- The parent with current custody claims that the other parent would put the child at an increased risk, but they are not behaving any differently than the second parent in terms of social distancing or changing activities
- The parent with current custody is risking exposure unnecessarily (frequent nonessential outings, frequent playdates, not wearing a mask in public places)
- The parent with current custody is not making any effort to encourage contact between the child and the other parent via Zoom, Skype, FaceTime or other methods
It is critical to note that a judge will not typically charge for contempt during COVID-19 if the parent is genuinely acting in the child’s best interests. However, if there is suspicion that this time is being used to drive a wedge between the other parent and the child, they will not hesitate to act.
Some of the situations that could protect you against charges of contempt during COVID-19 if the parenting plan is not followed precisely include:
- Agreeing with the other parent to a visitation denial in writing (e.g. if one parent lives with older grandparents and agrees to suspend visitation to limit exposure)
- Offering a reasonable makeup visitation in writing
- Documenting the visitation denial and the reasoning in a thorough and timely fashion
- Practicing safe and CDC recommended quarantine and social distancing guidelines
- The other parent or a member of their household has COVID-19 or has been exposed
- The visitation denial only occurs when there is an elevated risk (or the risk is ongoing, like the other parent working directly with COVID-19 patients in a hospital setting, etc.)
In some cases, COVID-19 has presented challenges to visitation plans. For example, your plan may agree that your child must remain in Maryland for school, but schooling now takes place remotely. If you have questions about how COVID-19 affects your custody agreement, contact an experienced child custody law firm like Lebovitz Law for answers.
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