Child Custody and Visitation During the COVID-19 Outbreak
The COVID-19 pandemic has placed additional pressure on parents who are trying to follow child custody and visitation orders. Most parents want to protect their children from a serious health risk, but divorced parents sometimes face the difficulty of coordinating their approach with an ex-spouse or co-parent with whom they may not get along. In some cases, co-parents have serious and urgent disagreements about how to handle safety during COVID-19. If you are concerned about child custody and visitation during the COVID-19 outbreak, you should consult Bergen County child custody lawyer Howard Leopold at Leopold Law. High standards must be met to get a custody or visitation arrangement changed, so it is wise to retain an experienced attorney during this process.Child Custody and Visitation During the COVID-19 Outbreak
In New Jersey, child custody and visitation orders are put in place based on a child’s best interests. When the parents can agree on what the child’s best interests are, they can submit a written agreement regarding custody and visitation to the court. If the parents cannot agree on the child’s best interests, the court will conduct an analysis by using the information provided and issue an order.
In some cases, the parents can talk through any disagreements about how to approach the health risks of COVID-19 and reach a new agreement that is drafted or reviewed by an attorney. In other cases, the parents may seriously disagree about how to approach the difficult situations created by the pandemic. It is unwise to unilaterally deviate from a child custody or visitation order, as tempting as it might be. In Bergen County and elsewhere in New Jersey, interference with child custody or visitation orders can be punished with a finding of contempt, changes in a parenting plan, and even criminal charges.Order to Show Cause
It may be appropriate to file an order to show cause. Generally, orders to show cause are filed to avoid or stop irreparable harm to a child or to safeguard their welfare, safety, and health. The court has discretion about whether to hold an emergency hearing or issue an emergency order. It is wise to consult an attorney to determine whether the situation is serious enough to warrant an emergency hearing. Serious situations could involve a parent who has been in a situation that involved substantial exposure to COVID-19, such as a conference where there has been an outbreak, or a child who is immunocompromised and a parent who is not following the CDC guidelines on the New Jersey Health Department’s website or a pediatrician’s advice. You will need to establish that there is a likelihood of immediate, inimical, and irreparable harm to a child to get an emergency order.
If a judge agrees that there is a likelihood of immediate, inimical, and irreparable harm to the child, an emergency order for custody will be granted. Otherwise, a regular proceeding will be scheduled.Modification of Custody or Visitation
Regular motions take longer to be heard than orders to show cause, but they can be filed when there is no emergency, but a change is needed. It may be possible to request a custody modification if the existing custody arrangement is no longer in the best interests of the child due to COVID-19. Generally, if the current agreement satisfies the best interests of the child, the court will not disrupt the arrangement. Accordingly, you will need substantial reasons to ask the court to make a modification.
If you are asking for a modification to child custody or visitation, you will need to show that there has been a significant change of circumstances since the original custody arrangement was created. For example, if a custodial parent’s house is no longer safe for a child to live there during the COVID-19 outbreak because the parent is routinely exposed to COVID-19 and does not have adequate protection for the child in place, this might justify asking for a change in physical custody. A parent asking for a change in custody will need to file a motion to explain why a change should be granted. The motion will need to specify whether they are asking for a modification of a child’s legal custody or physical custody, or both.Retain a Seasoned Child Custody Lawyer
If you are concerned about child custody and visitation during the COVID-19 outbreak, you should consult a child custody attorney. At Leopold Law, we can advise and represent you in working out an agreement with your co-parent, enforcing your rights, or seeking a change to an existing custody arrangement. We represent people in Bergen County and other areas of Northern New Jersey, including Passaic, Hudson, and Essex Counties. Call Leopold Law at (201) 345-5907 or contact us via our online form. We are available for daytime, evening, and weekend appointments for your convenience.