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Child Custody and the COVID-19 Lockdown – Who Gets the Kids?

The coronavirus outbreak and following lockdown has had a profound impact on millions across the globe. Businesses have closed, E-commerce is booming, healthcare workers are overwhelmed, and casualties are a sad reality. This is a serious issue, one that every family needs to think carefully about. Households have been mandated to stay at home and not mix with any other households, even if they are family.

Child Custody & COVID-19

But what does the lockdown mean for parents sharing custody of their children?  When the quarantine was instituted, some parents struggled with continuing to exchange their children. Maybe the kids are with you. Maybe they’re with your ex (not spouse). Maybe you’re worried about missed visitation time with the kids or how to manage homeschooling. Managing Custody during COVID-19 leads to many questions, and we’re here to provide a few essential answers.

Shelter-in-Place Does Not Legally Impact Custody

Legally, the mandate to isolate households does not mean your custody agreements are cancelled. Your ex cannot keep the kids under lock-and-key because of exposure risk, and to be fair, neither can you. You are expected to continue visits and household exchanging as usual. You’ll also want to coordinate with your ex on how to minimize unnecessary infection risk between households and from the outside.

Consider the Child’s Health Risk

Before you do the next exchange, do take a moment to consider your child’s health. Children have been found to be resilient against COVID-19, but children with preexisting conditions can be put at risk by the additional stress of a coronavirus infection. If your children have autoimmune disorders, are recovering from pneumonia, have severe asthma or have other pre-existing conditions, consider taking special care to isolate them or find alternatives to mixing households.

Consider Potential Exposure Risks

Next, consider how likely it is that either parent (or other members of either household) might bring COVID-19 into the mix. If everyone is currently working at home and effectively self-isolating, the risk of normal custody exchanges is reduced. If someone is an essential worker or a household member is unnecessarily exposing themselves to risk, it may not be ideal to conduct custody exchanges that trade exposure between households.

Consider Travel Risks

The next important question is how far you will have to travel to conduct custody exchanges. If you normally fly the kids across the country, this is not as safe now than it was last year. Road trips can be just as dangerous because rest stops and gas stations are now possible infection points where you might encounter other people or contaminated surfaces. The more travel is involved, the more carefully you want to think about your next custody decisions.

Isolation in Two-Week Intervals

One option, if you and your ex can agree, is to change your custody schedule to two-week intervals (or more) and both household self-isolate during that time. COVID-19, detected or undetected, is believed to run its course in 14 days. So, both household can be reasonably virus-free if they effectively isolate for two weeks before exchanging the kids. Anyone who has self-isolated (absolutely no contact) for two weeks can be considered safe for visits as well.

If Custody is Suspended: Insist or Provide Regular Zoom Days

Finally, if your kids are truly stuck in one household unable to visit both parents– Zoom. Video conferencing is how the world is staying connected and your family can do the same. If you have the kids, make sure they have the device, program, and encouragement to keep in touch with your ex. If they have the kids, insist on your Zoom-time and become a cool podcast parent. Do what you can to facilitate the connection and build a chill hang-out vibe online so that you can fill the hours together even if you can’t share a house right now.

If you are facing custody challenges because of the COVID-19 lockdown, we can help. Contact us today for the expert advice of a Boca Raton child custody lawyer.