Custody During Covid-19

The laws related to divorce and child custody have not changed in the unusual circumstances surrounding the Covid-19 outbreak. This means that a parent cannot unilaterally modify a child custody or parenting time agreement without going to court. If this is not an option in their area due to court closures, pauses or other limited access, the parents must maintain the schedule that was in effect prior to the outbreak unless they agree on a modified arrangement.

Transferring children between parents can expose them to an unnecessary risk of contracting the virus, especially if the parents do not live in the same area. Both parents may recognize this issue and work together to address it. If the parents have an amicable relationship, they may be able to agree on a temporarily modified custody arrangement. For example, they may agree to allow a child to spend more time with the parent who currently lives with them, in exchange for spending more time with the other parent later in the year. The parent who lives with the child also may agree to schedule video conversations between the child and the other parent. If you adjust your agreement with your ex-spouse or co-parent, you should put any changes to the agreement in writing and keep a hard copy of the revised agreement.

On the other hand, parents who feel hostile toward each other may not be able to reach an agreement. While you may have serious concerns about the health of your child, you should be aware that violating a custody order can result in a finding of contempt of court and other adverse consequences. Judges frequently reduce the custody or visitation rights of a parent who refuses to comply with a parenting time order, even in relatively extenuating circumstances.

Before taking this risk, parents may want to consult an attorney to file a petition for modfication or possibly work out a stipulation that follows NYS law (not just written on paper and notarized) to submit to the Court to alter their parenting plan. While the modification will not become an enforceable court order until a judge reviews it, it is likely to go a long way to keeping you from serious repercussions of simply “keeping” a child from a parent contrary to the current court order.