We have all become accustomed to living “six feet apart” and the restrictions of the “Stay at home” and “shelter in place” orders issued for North Carolina. Schools, gyms, restaurants and other non-essential businesses have been shut down.
We greet one another with masked faces and attempt to minimize the amount of time we spend out of the house. Not only has the pandemic struck fear into our nation but it has changed the way we do business with one another and how we socialize with friends and family.
Parents that share custody of their children are no exception and are now struggling with how to follow their current child custody orders when one parent is honoring the quarantine and the other is more cavalier about the mandate or when the child or other family member is at high risk.
If, for example, a parent has a custody order which requires that the child live with the other parent half of the time, but that other parent is refusing to “shelter in place,” is the first parent still obligated to follow the custody order? Generally, yes you must continue following your child custody order. However, every situation is very fact specific and anyone that has concerns about the health of their child with a custodial exchange schedule should speak with an attorney for guidance of how to proceed.
DOES THE STAY AT HOME ORDER PREVENT CHILD CUSTODIAL EXCHANGES?
Does the Stay at Home order prevent you from following the exchange schedule of a custodial agreement? No. On March 27, 2020, Governor Roy Cooper issued an Executive Order which provided that all residents of North Carolina remain at home except for “travel for essential activities.” One “essential activity” explicitly set forth in the Order is “to return to or travel between one’s place or places of residence for purposes including, but not limited to, child custody or visitation agreements.”
While custodial exchanges are permitted as an essential activity, it is unclear where the custodial exchanges will occur. Prior to the time of COVID-19, exchanges would often take place in public areas. However, with many of these facilities closed, parents need to be more flexible but still adhering to the safety of everyone involved in the exchange when arranging an alternative exchange location.
Now is not the time for self-righteousness. Parents need to agree about a pandemic protocol and prioritize the health of their child, especially if the child or other member of the family is in a high-risk category.
WHEN ONE PARENT LIVES IN ANOTHER STATE
Situations in which in one spouse lives out of state can be a significant source of contention and stress for parents that share custody of their children. With various regions of the country, experiencing a higher number of Coronavirus cases parents are nervous about sending their child to live with a parent that lives in an area with a higher number of Coronavirus cases.
It is even more important that parents who have these concerns to try and cooperate with each other and reach a mutual agreement about what is in their child’s best interests. Parents can seek guidance from the recommendations of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The most important thing when making decisions is to be respectful of your child’s other parent and listen to his or her point of view. It is vital to remember that this is not a frivolous decision and will not be a permanent change.
If you are experiencing difficulties reaching an agreement about a child custodial schedule during these stressful times, you should consult with a knowledgeable attorney who can help resolve the situation. To schedule a consultation, contact Allison Plekan of Plekan Law PLLC at (919) 653-1976.