COVID-19 and Child Custody

Downey Brand LLP
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Coronavirus (COVID-19) is now impacting the daily lives of families all over the country in unprecedented ways, and it is inevitable that some of those impacts may affect your marital dissolution action. Most immediately, if you have minor children, you may be wondering how coronavirus will impact your custody plan.

What happens if my child’s school is closed?

Schools throughout the state have begun to implement mandatory closures in response to the coronavirus. Commencing March 16, 2020, all school districts in Sacramento County will be closed to students for up to three weeks. Other school districts have implemented, or are in the process of implementing, similar plans. If you have minor children and are going through a divorce, or if you have a custody order pursuant to a previous marital dissolution action, you need to look at your custody order to determine parenting time during the school closures. You also need to look at the child care provisions in your custody order, as you may now be faced with an unexpected need for child care. For example, does your order require that one parent has the right of first refusal if the other parent needs child care for more than eight hours?

Ultimately, communication is the best thing you can do right now to respond to the ever-changing school and child care landscape resulting from the coronavirus outbreak. If possible, you should communicate directly with your child’s other parent and try to reach an agreement on how to handle any child care changes during these unexpected school closures. Of course, your situation may not lend itself to communicating directly with the other parent. If that is the case, then it is important you contact your attorney as soon as possible so that your attorney can help resolve any issues related to the school closures.

What happens if I, my child, or my child’s other parent gets sick or is subjected to quarantine requirements?

Now is the time, hopefully while you are healthy, to think about what will happen if you, your child, or your child’s other parent get sick or are required to self-quarantine. Again, the first step is to review your existing custody order, as it may generally address what will happen in the event one or both parents are ill and unable to care for the child. This is an unprecedented set of circumstances, and so even if your order does address such a situation, it would still be a good idea to reach out to your child’s other parent (either directly or through the parties’ attorneys) to make sure everyone is on the same page about what will happen if anyone becomes ill or is required to quarantine.

It is possible that your custody order does not cover what would happen if one or both parents are unable to care for the child (either due to quarantine or illness). If that is the case, then you should reach out to your child’s other parent right away – again either directly or through attorneys – to try to come up with a plan.

It would also be a good idea to communicate with your child’s other parent, and discuss how to respond if your child becomes ill. For example, you should discuss which parent would stay home with the child in the event the child is ill and/or has to be quarantined. Will you continue to follow the regular parenting schedule even if the child is ill? Communication is key to hopefully heading off unnecessary conflict during what is already a stressful time for everyone.

Finally, if possible, prepare to be flexible.

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