Custody in the Time of COVID-19

By: Jillian DiLaura McGuire

In the past month, New Yorkers have been told to shelter-in-place and self-quarantine in an effort to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus and “flatten the curve.”  Non-essential workers are working from home while others are unfortunately laid off or furloughed as businesses temporarily shutter their doors.  It is an uncertain time for us all, on many different fronts.  But for parents who share custody of their children, one question looms the largest: how do we follow custody and parenting time schedules in the age of the Corona Virus?

In the best-case scenario, both parents will be able to effectively communicate together, putting their children’s needs first.  If both parties are staying home, limiting outside contact, taking all precautions, and abiding by the recommendations of the CDC, our Governor, and our County Executive, then it is reasonable to expect that the regular custody schedule might continue.  Other parents can hopefully work together to structure a temporary adjustment to the schedule.  For example, where one parent is an essential worker or a medical provider, parents might agree to allow the children to remain temporarily with one parent.  Or parents might agree to temporarily adjust the regular access schedule to address the needs of children as they are home from school and daycare.  Parents must also consider the specific circumstances of their respective households.  Do they live with a grandparent or elderly relative, who might be at greater risk?  Is anyone in either household immuno-compromised?  It is the hope and expectation that parents can communicate and work together to serve the needs of the children while protecting other potentially vulnerable parties.

But what happens when your particular situation is not the best-case scenario?  There are bound to be any number of cases where one parent is deemed to be an essential worker and is interacting with others, or might otherwise be not taking the “shelter in place” requirements seriously and still socially interacting – but then still demands his or her time with the children.  Where there is an existing court order, it is always the best policy to abide by the terms of the order.  If you are unable to do so, or if you are concerned about doing so, there is unfortunately no clear-cut answer.  The court system is currently only hearing emergency cases, which do not seem to include petitions for enforcement of custody schedules.  And due to the unprecedented nature of this global pandemic, the legal community as a whole does not have any set expectation regarding how courts and judges will address custody disputes arising from this extraordinary time.  If you are concerned or have questions about your family or the specifics of your situation, please feel free to give our firm a call to speak with a matrimonial and family law attorney.