Corona And Child Custody
***Disclaimer for my trolls… This post has no relation to my own custody case or my children. Any similarities are definitely unintentional.
One thing “staying at home” is doing, is providing me more time to research, write, and respond.
A reader asked me to clarify, or go into more detail, as to the situation of custody in a medical crisis such as our country is currently dealing with. I gave a short answer, one that is shared on legal web sites all over – that an illness does not prevent a parent from being a parent. In other words, if you have a custody order in place, follow it. Because that is exactly how a judge would enforce a custody issue or rule on contempt.
First, my position. As an adult child of a divorce, and as a parent involved with divorce and issues of custody and visitation, I am always going to be an advocate for the child first. I know what it is like to have grown up in that environment, and I know what I must do to avoid repeating those issues in my own situation.
So the next thing to understand, there are two types of parenting following a divorce: co-parents and combative parents with agendas.
It is very easy to recognize the co-parents, because they would not worry about the issue of how to handle a custody or visitation during a crisis such as this pandemic. Both parents would recognize the importance of assessing risk of exposure and cross-contamination, support each other’s abilities to care for the child(ren) – something that was never a disputed issue during the marriage either, and then of course, recognizing the natural need for the child to be in both parents lives. Both parents will cooperate in sharing communications and updates as to the health of the child(ren) as well as sharing records so that both parents are informed. In other words, the parents act as if the parents did not divorce. As I have always said, and even told my children, parents do not divorce, only the husband and wife divorce.
Combative parenting is an entire different issue, and with more states recognizing the importance of shared parenting, often a custodial parent is likely to use an emergency situation as an attempt to justify violating a custody order, agreed by both parents, and ordered and signed by a judge. The long short of this argument, and supported by case examples and family law attorneys, barring a child being hospitalized or that critically ill, the child(ren) can and should be cared for by both children.
It sounds simple enough really, “best interest of the child.” But unfortunately it is not that simple. A spouse who is so bitter, lasting into years, even decades after a divorce, often resorts to “violating” a custody order – denying a non-custodial parent the ability to have physical custody. Intentional or subconsciously, a custodial parent decides either that they feel in the right to make decisions on visitations, or perhaps sees opportunities to use the child(ren) as a weapon to intentionally cause emotional hurt towards the non-custodial parent. Of course, this behavior is not only wrong, not only offensive, but hurts the children the most, not the intended target.
The only remedy for a non-custodial parent to deal with a custody violation, is to file a contempt complaint. Parents need to remember, both sign this agreement, and the judge orders it and signs it. There is no contesting what is written, it is black and white. If there is a problem with it, then there is an opportunity to modify the agreement, but, in order to do that, there must be either a mutual agreement to modify it, or substantial issues being addressed to be corrected by the modification. Otherwise, a custody violation contempt charge because “a child was sick” will be upheld.
Again, using this Corona virus crisis as an example, if the child does not have the virus, the child has the right, and must be allowed to see both parents. If the child, or the non-custodial parent has the virus, common sense for what is best for the child and/or parent should prevail without requiring legal intervention. That is what co-parenting looks like.
Of course geographical location may play a role in the decisions of custody exchanges, but again, cooler and responsible heads should prevail with common sense. Obviously, if both parents live in close proximity to each other, allowing car travel between homes, there should be no issue with exchanges. And even if the child were to have the virus, and the non-custodial parent would not, the situation still requires a decision based on the best interests of the child (keeping in mind both parents are able to take care of their sick child as they did when they were married), and then, exposure risk of the non-infected non-custodial parent. But again, it is a no-brainer, you make the best decision, not a selfish one.
In the event, long distance travel is required, this is a totally different issue, but again, requires communication between both parents. Using this crisis as the example, what is the virus exposure with the custodial parent, and with the non-custodial parent? What are transportation risks (such as air or train)?
And then of course, there is also one other major factor to consider, as pointed out, any pre-existing condition that would complicate exposure to or infection of the virus. I have often written about my exposure risks. And even when I was married to their mother, I had to have a plan in place, in the event that either of my children would come home from school, “carrying” something home, like chicken pox, flu, strep or any other infection. Even though I had been vaccinated long ago for these things, as had been my children, not having a spleen makes me super susceptible to any infection, and depending on the illness, could be fatal for me. And for that reason, I had to have a plan if we received a note from school, that another student had a contagious health problem.
Ok trolls, you are on. I am talking about my children now.
I have not seen my daughters since February. I had plans to see them for the birthdays, and Easter break as our custody agreement states. But given where my daughters reside, and where I reside, flying is our mode of transport. We all live in areas dealing with this virus. But with my health issues, I had to make the difficult decision, to postpone visitation plans, which my daughters understand, because they know my health background. They have witnessed me be rolled out of my home at 4am into an ambulance, and hooked up to all kinds of machines and tubes. They know my risk. I am lucky. I still have various means to communicate with my daughters, especially video.
My hopes are, that within a couple of months, this situation will be under control. I am only listening to the experts, in other words doctors, as I have been nothing but disappointed in nearly every politician who has either blown off the concern, or skewed facts and decisions.
I want my daughters to stay safe. I want to stay safe. I have a custody order. A custody order is an agreement, but when both parents can agree that an exception needs to be made, and is in the best interest, it can be done without the need of a judge to get involved.
For more information, I would refer you to the website for Fathers For Equal Rights (and I would apologize because custody issues affect both fathers and mothers, so this situation is gender neutral, and the information listed on this page applies to both parents).
Fathers4kids.com, go under the “visitation” tab, and refer to “visitation rules and guidelines.”
Or, you can just do the co-parenting thing, the right thing, and not worry about wasting all the time being combative.