To Exchange or Not To Exchange – That is the Question
For those of you wondering whether to follow your child custody/visitation orders or the government’s latest shelter in place orders, you are not alone. To provide parents some clarity in the midst of confusion, the California Superior Courts have some recommendations for you to follow while the COVID-19 pandemic continues. Here is what you need to know:
- COVID-10 is NOT a reason, on its own, to deny the other parent parenting time. Absent other court orders to the contrary, parents are considered fit to care for their children and properly follow local government directives regarding social distancing and sanitation-related measures.
- Travel: The Governor has issued executive orders that restrict non-essential travel. Custody exchanges are considered essential travel and are therefore not prohibited. Unless otherwise directed by the Governor or other executive order, the parties should continue to follow their parenting plan as written while such orders are in effect. If you feel more comfortable traveling with a copy of your custody order, that is a fine idea.
- Exchanges: during the exchange of children, all parties should follow the latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for limiting the spread of the virus. If you typically exchange your children at a very crowded place, this may mean choosing an alternate location that has fewer people so that you can comply with the current social distancing requirements. Try to limit how much you touch during the exchanges and be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after each.
- Supervised Parenting Time: If parenting time is ordered to be supervised, and the supervisor is unavailable due to COVID-19-related issues or government orders, the parties should work collaboratively to ensure parenting time continues to occur in a manner that promotes their children’s safety and well-being, such as finding an alternative supervisor. If that is not possible, then the parenting time should be conducted virtually via videoconferencing or by telephone.
- Parenting Time in Public Places: If the parenting plan states that parenting time will occur in a public place, parenting time should continue at locations that are permitted under the latest health and safety guidelines for the state, such as a large park or nature hike. Try to avoid places where children can touch objects that have been touched by others, like play structures. If this is not possible, then parenting time should be conducted virtually via teleconferencing or by telephone.
- Makeup Parenting Time: If parents lose parenting time as a result of COVID-19-related issues or government orders, the parents are encouraged to work collaboratively to schedule makeup parenting time.
At this time, most California Superior Courts in the Bay Area are closed through April 30. As a result of these extended closures, all the hearings that were initially set to be heard between mid-March and April 30 will be reset to be heard upon the court’s re-opening, in addition to those already set. This means that any non-emergency requests filed with the courts will likely generate a court date 2-3 months out. Therefore, parties should aim to settle non-emergency custody disputes informally. If you need assistance reaching agreements with a non-compliant party, please do not hesitate to contact us.
The courts are aware that some parties may nevertheless need the Court’s speedier assistance in these times. If you are unable to see your child(ren) as a result of the other parent’s non-compliance with your custody orders, you may be able to seek an Emergency Order from the Court. If you think this may be your situation, please reach out to us, and we can discuss your options with you.