Amid the spread of COVID-19, we are all facing unprecedented times. As this pandemic continues, regulations regarding safe practices change daily. One thing on the mind of parents sharing custody is whether or not their court order is enforceable.
Rest assured, custody and parenting time Orders are in effect and continue to be enforceable during this period of time. Court-ordered arrangements remain obligatory and should be followed accordingly unless doing so places the a child at unnecessary risk.
Any parent planning to use the pandemic as a reason to deny access to another parent can expect the courts to come down hard on parent agreement violations. Many judges view time of crisis to be particularly critical times for children to maintain some form of normality.
In cases where parents are willing to work together, they should consider the following: which parent has better resources for the child to complete distance learning, if one parent has a high-risk job, the health of family members, social distancing rules, etc. In the unfortunate event that a parent is required to self-quarantine or is restricted from having contact with others, efforts should be made to allow for parenting time by video conference or telephone.
A critical aspect of co-parenting that may be affected is where the exchange of children takes place. For some parents, the changeover occurs at school. However, if the school is no longer in session, a new location and time will need to be agreed upon. If the exchange is not possible from someone’s home, it’s suggested to find a public place as close to the child’s school as possible to make the exchange. Any parenting exchanges should keep in mind any current restrictions in place due to the current pandemic situation.
In the event where no agreement is made and one parent is refusing court-ordered visitation, the Probate and Family Court remains open and operational to handle these Motions with a possible telephone hearing if such is deemed an emergency situation by the Court warranting an immediate hearing. If you are concerned that the other parent is placing the child at risk (by not practicing social distancing techniques or exposing the child to an infected person), contact our office for guidance during these unprecedented times.
Co-parenting Across State Lines
To contain the spread of COVID-19, most states have instructed residents to remain at home as much as possible. However, children of divorced or separated parents still need to move between households. This can become particularly difficult as states are setting their own guidelines regarding travel and restrictions. These restrictions, however, do not prevent parenting plans from going forward if travel is reasonable (such as driving from Massachusetts into New Hampshire).
Typically, a child custody order in one state is valid and enforceable in nearly every other state. In some cases where parents live in different states, they may have different orders from their respective states, creating an issue regarding what state has jurisdiction over child custody issues.
In Massachusetts, the Probate and Family Court’s subject-matter jurisdiction over child custody decisions is governed by the Uniform Child Custody Act. Other states adhere to the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Enforcement Act. Both acts encourage cooperation and avoidance of jurisdictional conflict between courts of different States in order to protect the child’s welfare when litigating custody matters.
As with any custody agreement, the needs and safety of the child come first. If you feel your child is in danger or is being unlawfully withheld from you, contact our office for guidance during these unprecedented times.