Alexis and Ted are unmarried, both live in California and share custody of their 6-year-old son David. Alexis is located in Roseville while Ted lives in Sacramento, which is about 25 miles apart. David attends school in Roseville. The parents have a court order that provides alternating weeks of joint legal custody and joint physical custody.
Governor Gavin Newsom issued an executive stay at home order on March 19, 2020, which closed many academic institutions and businesses to promote the wellbeing of all Californians as they shelter in place. However, it caused complete confusion between Alex and Ted because they didn’t know how the custody exchanges were going to continue as the parent’s main concern was the safety of themselves and David.
The week the Governor issued the order, David was with Ted. The following week, Alexis requested to pick up David, but based on the current COVID-19 pandemic, Ted was reluctant to perform the exchange as Alexis is a Nurse at a local hospital in Roseville, and he was concerned with her exposed to the virus. The issue here is whether or not the court order still applies during a pandemic that affects the entire world?
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared that COVID-19 (coronavirus) a pandemic and was a global crisis. The term “social distancing” has created a world-wide shelter in place order where individuals are to remain at home/shelf unless obtaining essential needs from a grocery store or otherwise provided by the government. The virus is highly contagious and affects the respiratory system especially dangerous to children, elderly, or individuals with underlying chronic health conditions.
The shelter-in-place executive order does not directly affect or modify the current California custody orders already in effect. However, if parents agree to an alternative custody arranging during the COVID-19 pandemic, the parents can do so. Submitting a stipulation to the court rather than a verbal arrangement may be wiser. Beware, vocal arrangements during this time can be problematic as there is too much uncertainty with the virus at this time. The recommendation is to consult with your family law attorney to discuss the details of a temporary alternate custody arrangement.
How are the Courts Addressing the Custody Exchange Issues?
Most California Courts are closed at this time, but they are continuing to hear ex parte matters (emergency hearings) for child custody when there is a substantial and actual risk of the child or children. The application process to obtain a court hearing date and time is quite complicated, and an individual without prior experience filling out paperwork is likely to have their pleadings rejected for failure to comply with the court procedures. It is HIGHLY recommended to have an experienced family law attorney draft and submit the paperwork on your behalf to ensure the proper court procedures are followed.
Most family law firms are furloughing their employees because the courts are closed, and their clients are timid due to the current economic state. Gale, Angelo, Johnson & Pruett continues to operate with a full staff and has the experience and ability to file ex parte applications.
If Ted is following the Governor’s orders and taking all precautions necessary to protect David, is withholding him from Alexis allowable? Talk to your family law attorney or if you don’t have one- get one, to discuss the legality of the issues. If Alexis were to have a consultation with an attorney, would she be able to qualify for an ex parte application to enforce the current custody orders between her and Ted? Essentially, there is always an “it depends” answer.
Current Pandemic Situations
For any individuals exposed to the coronavirus, there is a two-week recommended quarantine. If Alexis may have been exposed at work, is David safer with Ted for the short-term? Being quarantined is for the protection of the child, parent, and community, especially is the individuals are adversely affected by the virus. With schools closed, businesses closed, and parents continuing working from home, how should Ted and Alexis co-parent during the COVID-19 pandemic?
Tips for Co-Parenting During COVID-19
- Put aside the feuds between parents aside and accommodate them with the understanding that the world is affected, not just you.
- Keep the other parent informed of your child’s health and wellbeing during this time, especially your medical provider, if the child has been exposed to coronavirus.
- Routinely discuss and update how the current custody schedule will be impacted due to the stay at home orders.
- Refrain from making unilateral decisions concerning the custody arraignment.
- Retain all modifications of the custody orders in writing (phone calls are written down or emails).
Gale, Angelo, Johnson & Pruett family law attorneys are here to support you during these extremely worrisome times. Our firm is able to perform consultations over the phone, google hangouts, or zoom if necessary. California custody orders are still in effect and our attorneys can advocate on your behalf to ensure the safety of your child. Schedule a conference to have your custody questions answered.