Unprecedented. Uncertain. Unforeseen. These words have been popping up more than usual lately. The fact of the matter is that we are living in unprecedented times. The current global climate has brought significant changes to so many aspects of our lives – our routines; the way we work; the way we communicate and socialize. For parents who share custody of their children, these shifts can bring about questions and concerns about child custody schedules and parenting plans.
When it comes to child custody issues during the COVID-19 pandemic, the best course of action is to remain sensible and flexible. Remember that the current situation is uncharted territory for everyone. Whenever possible, parents should work together to devise a plan in their children’s best interest. COVID-19 or not, that has always been the ultimate goal. In California, the law prefers that children enjoy frequent and continuing contact with both parents, absent a very good reason not to do so. Some counties have instituted special COVID-19 related rules that may be helpful.
According to the California Courts, prior child custody and visitation orders should be followed, even in light of the current “stay-at-home” orders. However, if the child or anyone in the household is showing symptoms of COVID-19 or any serious illness, anyone in the household has been exposed to another person who has tested positive for COVID-19, or immunocompromised persons live in the household, parents are encouraged to work together to devise a plan in which there is still some form of continued contact via video or telephone calls.
As of April 6, 2020, a nearby county’s court set forth an administrative order regarding mandatory guidelines that will remain in effect until COVID-19 restrictions are removed. The guidelines state that parents must have specific and articulable facts to support requests for modification of existing custody orders – the pandemic alone is not a sufficient basis. Therefore, parents should not use COVID-19 as an excuse to deny parenting time. Parents should put forth an effort to keep to the schedule – this may mean altering exchange locations to adhere to public health laws, or facilitating video or telephone calls in the event that in-person visits are not possible. The Court notes that unreasonable denial of custodial time will be taken into account during future custody-related hearings.
A parent who believes that a child’s health, safety, or welfare are at serious risk by continuing the agreed-upon custody arrangement and is unable to come to an agreement with the other parent, may consider reaching out to an attorney for assistance. Since the courts are currently closed, except for urgent or emergency situations, options are somewhat limited.
Effective May 18, 2020 in Los Angeles County, an attorney, or a parent who is self-represented or represented by an attorney, looking to negotiate custody matters may initiate an invitation through the Court’s new Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) program. The other parent or attorney is then provided with the option to respond to the request. Once the parents are able to agree on a parenting plan, the program generates a Parenting Plan Agreement, which must then be filed with the Court. Upon the Court’s acceptance, the plan becomes an order of the court. If the parties are unable to resolve all custody and visitation disputes via the ODR program, they will be required to attend Family Court Services mediation in-person at a future date.
If COVID-19 has affected your custodial schedule and you need assistance or answers regarding your legal rights, contact Boyamian Law.