Many parents are concerned about how the current Stay at Home Order will affect their current custody order or agreement. Should they suspend one parent’s visitation? Will they be charged criminally for leaving their homes to participate in a custody exchange? The answer to these questions is no.
NC Stay at Home Order and Custody Orders
The current North Carolina Stay at Home Order specifically allows for travel between residences for purposes of custody exchanges under a court order or agreement. Therefore, parents should continue to abide by their current custody orders, otherwise, they run the risk of facing contempt and punishment by the court in the future.
Specific Wording in the Governor’s FAQ says:
“Can I carry out a court-ordered visit with my kids?
Yes. To the extent possible, maintain social distancing with individuals other than your child and limit meetings to places and activities that are permitted under this Order, such as outdoor parks.”
Use Your Best Judgement
Parents do, however, have the option of temporarily altering or suspending their custody order as they deem appropriate to minimize their child’s risk or their own risk to COVID-19. For example, parents might decide that it is safest for the children to remain in one household primarily during this time depending on one parent’s heightened risk of exposure to COVID-19 or the ability to self-isolate. They might even agree in advance to that parent receiving “makeup time” with the children during the summer or the holidays. It is advisable to memorialize these informal agreements in writing (even a text message or email) in case they need to be presented to a court in a contempt hearing.
Because this is such a novel experience for our country, it is difficult to give definitive advice on this complex issue. If there are substantial risk factors in taking the child or children to the other party’s house and you decide to cease visitation which has otherwise been court-ordered, then it will ultimately be up to a court to determine whether those factors justified withholding the child or children.
It is not uncommon for new and novel threats, such as COVID-19, to your child or children to arise after a Custody and Visitation Order is placed into effect. Ultimately parents need to act in the best interests of their children. However, there are always risks when you do not abide by the set Orders of the Court. Traditionally Courts vary greatly on when to hold a party in contempt of court for intentionally violating an Order when that party is claiming to have acted under the good faith belief that what they are doing is justified by some new danger to the child.
Contact a Child Custody Attorney in the Triad
If in doubt about how to interpret your specific child custody order concerning the COVID-19 restrictions on travel reach out to one of the experienced child custody attorneys at Dummit Fradin to have our team review the specific language contained in your child custody or child visitation order. We have teams in Winston-Salem, Greensboro, and High Point ready to assist you with your child custody needs.