Women in meeting

COVID-19 And Custody: When Parents Can’t Agree

On March 11, 2020, confirmed coronavirus/COVID-19 cases in the U.S. exceeded 1,000. This number has doubled in the past three days. Eight people have tested positive in Montgomery County, one of whom is a doctor who treated children at CHOP in King of Prussia. Schools are closing, public events are being cancelled and panic is spreading.

So, what happens when separated or divorced parents (who share legal custody of the children) can’t agree about what is safe for their children? We are seeing these issues arise more frequently as COVID-19, and the fear it brings, continues to spread.

For example, what if a dad has plans to take the kids to Florida for spring break but the mom does not want the kids walking through an airport and flying on an airplane. The dad would argue that there is no travel ban and no governmental agency is indicating it is a danger to fly. The mom would argue that COVID-19 is rapidly spreading and why take the risk. The answer is: there is no easy answer.

If the parents can’t reach a consensus on the issue, an emergency petition for special relief may be warranted and a judge will make the decision. The outcome will depend on how the judge assigned to the case views the threat of the children being exposed to COVID-19. For example, if the proposed trip is to Europe, it may be easier to convince a judge that a danger exists as opposed to a trip to Florida. The judge will likely want to review the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the vacation destination, any warnings issued by the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control or local health departments. Naturally, a major factor would be whether the children have preexisting health conditions and may therefore be more susceptible to COVID-19. Ultimately, like any other dispute brought to court, it will be up to the judge.

Another issue that we are starting to see is parents who do not agree on whether their children should attend extra-curricular activities or public events. The remedy for such an agreement is the same: an emergency petition to the judge assigned to the case. There is an undeniable concern about exposing children to large public events. Philadelphia has cancelled their St. Patrick’s Day parade as warnings abound about possible COVID-19 exposure from large public gatherings. It is certainly reasonable to consider the possibility that a risk may exist from children attending activities where they are in close proximity to others, including indoor extra-curricular activities.

The bottom line is that there seems to be more unknown than known about COVID-19 at this point. If a divorced or separated parent is concerned about the other parent taking actions that increase the possibility of exposing the children to COVID-19, seeking legal counsel is the best course of action.

The divorce and family law attorneys of Shemtob Draganosky Taylor can guide you through all of your divorce and family law matters. Contact our family lawyers in Montgomery and Bucks Counties for a confidential discussion.