Child Custody and Visitation During the COVID-19 Outbreak

Find out whether the Coronavirus pandemic and shelter-in-place orders affect custody plans.

By , Attorney

The Coronavirus Pandemic and Shelter-in-Place Orders

The novel Coronavirus (also knows as COVID-19) continues to spread across the globe. According to Johns Hopkins University, as of April 3, 2020 there were over 1,056,777 cases worldwide and 257,773 cases in the U.S..

Because medical experts universally agree that social distancing will slow the spread of this virus, almost every state has issued an order demanding (or urging) its residents to shelter-in-place or stay home unless they must leave for essential needs, such as buying groceries and medications or going to the doctor.

Are Custody Schedules Affected By Shelter-in-Place Rules?

The COVID-19 shelter-in-place rules don't affect custody orders, so you should continue following your parenting plan unless you and your ex agree to change it or a judge modifies your custody order.

Violating court orders or withholding visitation during this time may result in court sanctions. But if you have a legitimate concern that following your custody schedule will pose a risk to your child's health, you can try communicating with your ex to see if you can agree on ways to keep your child safe.

Some Children are High-Risk for COVID-19

COVID-19 is highly contagious and can cause severe to fatal respiratory complications. Individuals with asthma are at a higher risk for getting very sick or developing respiratory complications from COVID-19. Children with underlying chronic health conditions should be considered high-risk for developing complications from COVID-19. "Infants and children who are immunocompromised/suppressed or have other cardiac, metabolic, or respiratory problems are also at higher risk of complications from COVID-19, just as they would be from other infections."

If your child is immunocompromised/suppressed, has asthma, or suffers from another underlying medical condition that makes your child more susceptible to COVID-19, ask your pediatrician for advice on ways to reduce the risk to your child.

If you believe sending your child for visits with your ex might pose a danger to your child's health, you can ask your ex to agree to temporarily change your custody schedule, by, for example, postponing visits for a short period of time (depending on what your child's doctor recommends) and scheduling make-up visits. You can also offer to facilitate daily phone calls and/or "virtual visits" using FaceTime or Zoom

If your child's other parent has been exposed to someone with confirmed COVID-19—or has tested positive for COVID-19—he or she will be hospitalized and/or asked to quarantine, and visits will have to be rescheduled.

Seeking Legal Advice and Emergency Custody Orders During the Outbreak

If you and your ex can't agree, you should contact a local family law attorney for advice. Family law attorneys are still available by phone and/or virtual meeting services. You can also check your local family law court website for information on custody issues and how to obtain emergency relief.

Judges are encouraging parents to continue following custody orders and stating that they won't make changes to custody except where a child's health is truly at risk. If you can make a strong showing that there's an increased risk of your child contracting COVID-19, a judge might intervene or issue an emergency temporary child custody order.

Although most courthouses have temporarily closed, family law courtrooms remain open for emergency restraining orders, Domestic Violence Restraining Orders (DVROs), and other emergency orders. These hearings can be held by phone.

Check with your attorney or local court website to find out if your courthouse remains opens for emergency custody issues and what process you'll need to follow to have your request heard by a judge.

Updated April 3, 2020

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