Coronavirus and Child Custody Issues

Coronavirus and Child Custody Issues

In the first few weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, child custody attorneys across the country were inundated with phone calls from frantic parents wanting to know how to exchange their children to meet the child visitation plans in their divorce. Now, over three months into the coronavirus pandemic, parents and family attorneys have a good understanding of how this has impacted child custody agreements.

The stay-at-home orders for the Naperville area and for the entire state of Illinois were first ordered by Governor J.B. Pritzker through an executive order on March 21st. The order limited travel to essential needs and shut all non-essential businesses throughout the state. This left many parents wondering if an exchange of the child or children to meet the parenting order was acceptable or if it was safe to keep the children at their home.

The executive order did specifically include travel to exchange children under a parenting order. The Governor specified that this type of travel was essential, and parents were expected to maintain the parenting order requirement for the exchange of the children.

Possible Concerns
Speaking directly with child custody attorneys is important if there are any concerns about following the orders as written. There are some specific concerns related to the health and well-being of the child, and parents may have very good reasons to worry about completing an exchange.

• Parent travels – some parents are deemed essential workers and are traveling to areas where there are high levels of COVID-19 cases. In these situations, exchanging the children if the parent cannot complete a 14-day self-quarantine may put the children at risk for exposure.

• Parent is a first responder or medical worker – first responders and medical workers are doing heroic work in Naperville and across the country. They are also a high-risk group due to their exposure to people with COVID-19, and this may be a reason to limit physical access to the children. As most of these parents understand the risks, they may even suggest postponing exchanges for their children’s well-being.

• Sickness or exposure – if the other parent has signs of COVID-19, or has been in contact with someone with COVID-19, it is reasonable to protect the children until completion of a 14-day self-quarantine.

• Public transportation – if the children are exchanged using public transportation or in a public place, parents should consider options that provide the necessary protection but also limit exposure of the children to any possible contact with contaminated surfaces or with large numbers of people.

Talking to child custody attorneys before arbitrarily withholding access is always the best-case scenario. It is also important to offer other alternatives to allow parents to stay in contact with their children, including increased phone contact, or using video chat and meeting platforms to give parents and kids the opportunity to speak with each other.

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