Custody and COVID-19: Is It Safe to Continue Visitation?

Patricia TichenorLegal

child custody - visitation with father during covid

For divorced parents who share custody of their children, Virginia’s current stay-at-home order has raised a lot of concerns about exercising their visitation during COVID-19. Parents are wondering if transporting children back and forth between households is safe, and whether it should be continued while a stay-at-home order remains in place.

In short, the answer is yes, providing:

  1. No one in either parent’s household has COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms.
  2. Proper health and prevention protocols are followed (as recommended by the CDC and other organizations).
  3. Children and parents do not have a compromised immune system or other medical condition(s) that puts them at a higher risk for contracting the virus.

Parental visitation is still considered essential travel under shelter-in-place rules. Failure to honor a custody agreement or court order by withholding visitation (without a legitimate health or safety concern) is not recommended and may put you at risk of being held in contempt for violating a court order.

Here are some tips for parents who are navigating visitation during COVID-19.

1. Assess exposure and risk.

If both parents have been cleared to work from home and are limiting their public exposure to the virus, their risk of passing it along to the children is minimal. However, if either parent is an essential, frontline worker, especially in the medical field, their risk is greater. In this case, you and your ex might agree to keep the children with the parent who is least exposed. 

If you do reach any agreement to deviate from your current agreement or court order, it is best for both parents to put this in writing and to sign it (electronically if necessary), so that both parents’ expectations are clear and a document exists to show a judge if a future court case arises between the two of you over alleged “denial” of visitation or make-up time, etc.

2. Follow and enforce best practices for health and safety in both homes.

These best practices include: frequently washing hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, wearing masks or cloth face coverings when leaving the house, staying at least six feet away from others in public, disinfecting surfaces, and staying home except for essential trips.

3. Consistently monitor each family member’s health.

Since some people who contract COVID-19 don’t show any symptoms, checking each person’s temperature is key. If someone in the household does have a fever, you’ll want to isolate them in a separate room/part of the house to decrease the risk of infecting other members of the family.

Household members should follow the CDC’s guidelines for home isolation and caring for someone with the virus. If someone in the house has a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, visitation should stop until the recommended home isolation period has passed.

4. Schedule video calls if you are unable to safely continue visitation during COVID-19.

If visitation becomes unsafe, schedule regular video calls with the other parent during non-custody periods to keep both parties in contact and involved. Free video tools include: FaceTime (Apple users), Google Hangouts, Skype, Facebook and Zoom (free for a limited number of people). Additionally, after it is safe to continue visitation, allow the parent who was not able to be with their children in person to make up their lost visitation time.

5. Try to keep things as normal as possible throughout the quarantine.

Life is anything but normal right now, and many families – especially kids – are experiencing a sense of panic and discomfort. Both parents need to do their best to make things feel as familiar and comfortable as possible, regardless of where the children are currently staying. Keep them on a routine and prioritize quality family time in both households. Have family game nights, walk the dog together, read books, and take up new hobbies such as painting or knitting.

If you do need to change your visitation schedule, make sure your children understand that it’s for the whole family’s health and safety. 

For additional information about Virginia custody and visitation matters, contact My Legal Case Coach. Book a free 15-minute consultation to discuss your circumstances and how COVID-19 may impact your current arrangements. We can help you with drafting a temporary agreement to protect yourself from a future accusation of custodial interference or violation of a court order.