Child custody battles are often complicated, even in the most amicable divorces. Both parents understandably want to spend as much time as possible with their children, and some will go to great lengths to make sure that happens. Some will even lie and do what they can to prove that the other party is an unfit parent.
That is what is happening now, but the parents are not alleging that the other parent is abusing the children or using drugs or alcohol. Instead, they are taking their ex-spouses to court and trying to keep them away from the children because they are working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic. Health care workers and firefighters in particular are frequently exposed to the coronavirus, and if they have custody of their children, their spouses may take them to court to strip them of their custody rights to prevent exposure of coronavirus to the children.
While it is good to be proactive in these uncertain times and keep kids from getting sick from a disease that has already killed more than 92,000 people in the United States alone, is denying a parent custody of their children taking things a little too far? Nurses, doctors, and firefighters who are simply doing their jobs seem to think so. Even health care workers who do not treat COVID-19 patients are being stripped of their custody rights until the coronavirus crisis is over.
That was what happened to a registered nurse who works with anesthesia patients. Her ex-husband, a commander in the Navy, has fought for many years to gain full custody of the children. This time, he succeeded. While the nurse has never had any substance abuse problems or mental health issues that would make her an unfit mother, her ex-husband was able to convince the judge that simply because of her job, she should be denied access to their two children, ages 13 and 15, until the pandemic has passed. This was despite the fact that the woman did not work with COVID-19 patients and she still wore proper protective gear. In the end, she was able to get her children back, but only because she took a telemedicine job that allowed her to work remotely so she would not come into physical contact with patients. Once she took that job, she was able to regain custody of her children.
Should children be taken away from their parents simply because there is a risk of coronavirus exposure? That does not seem fair to the parents nor is it to the children whose routines are already disrupted enough by the coronavirus. They cannot attend school. They cannot play sports. They cannot socialize with friends. Now they cannot see their parents?
There are two sides to this story. Essential workers should not be punished for doing crucial services. But then there are those who say that the people who work these jobs have a higher risk of contracting the virus and they should not be exposing their children to this risk.
Unfortunately, there is no simple law that can help parents make the right decisions in these unprecedented times. We have never experienced anything like the coronavirus before, so there is nothing in writing that tells us what to do in such a situation. Therefore, many divorced parents are unsure how to proceed right now. They want to protect their children and for many, that means keeping them away from their other parents if they are an essential worker who comes into contact with coronavirus patients.
Since there is no case law to guide them, parents are unsure how to make many decisions right now. They are pretty much on their own when it comes to co-parenting during a pandemic. What should they do if the other parent lives in another county? Should they change their visitation schedule? Should children be allowed to visit a friend? Should they travel?
Parents are making decisions on their own. Sometimes they make them with the other parent. Many consult with a lawyer to understand their options and next steps. Some courts are making decisions, issuing administrative orders addressing the COVID-19 pandemic. A court in Tennessee recommends that the “primary residential parent” take custody of the child and retain sole custody until the shelter in place order is lifted. This means that many parents would have two months of sole custody of a child so far. In Massachusetts, if a parent is restricted from contact with their children for some reason, both parents should allow for the children to communicate with the other parent via phone or video chat.
While these are some general guidelines, this does not mean the courts are always there to help, though. The responses differ depending on the location and the circumstances. For the most part, courts are closed except for emergency situations—and what you think is an emergency may not be urgent to the court. Some are holding hearings online for urgent matters. Your best bet is to review your state’s shelter in place orders and talk to a lawyer about your options.
Seek Legal Help
We are living in strange times right now. People are forced to shelter in place. Many are forced to change the way they do their jobs. Those who are divorced with children are having to navigate uncharted territory when it comes to custody and visitation issues.
Need help with custody issues during these challenging times? Get help from Broward County divorce attorney Scott J. Stadler. We understand the laws and will make sure the best interests of your children are kept in mind. Schedule a consultation today. Call our office today at (954) 346-6464.