Will COVID-19 Affect My Parental Custody Rights?
We are certain to experience COVID well into 2021. If you have concerns about co-parenting during this pandemic, you’re not alone. Figuring out how to balance parenting time and all the duties and responsibilities of co-parenting is difficult enough, even without these unprecedented challenges. Many people have different views on how to stay safe and healthy during a pandemic, and it can be incredibly difficult to find a balance that provides safety and normalcy for your kids while also maintaining peace with your co-parent and any other family members or individuals who have an important role in their care.
So, will COVID-19 affect your custody rights? In short, no. The pandemic does not affect your custody rights. Your rights remain the same, as detailed by the court-ordered child custody and parental agreements that existed before the pandemic. However, is that necessarily a good thing? While the written agreement does not change, circumstances certainly have, and it may not be possible, safe, or in the best interest of your child(ren) to adhere to an agreement that does not factor in or address the current extenuating circumstances.
Options for Adapting
While parenting time and custody agreements may look daunting and iron-clad, they are more flexible than they seem. These agreements are created to serve the best interests of the child and can be modified to ensure that the child’s needs are being met, especially in the case of extreme changes in circumstance. Courts prefer that slight modifications be made to existing parenting agreements over time, as it reduces the necessity for more abrupt or extreme changes.
Temporary and Emergency Adjustments to Visitation
If there is a need for a slight or temporary modification to the existing agreement, the best option is talking to your co-parent and attempting to reach a mutual agreement. For instance, if your child’s co-parent tested positive for COVID-19 or is experiencing symptoms, it may put your child in imminent danger to adhere to the visitation agreement. Yet, it may not be necessary to change the agreement permanently — likely, just for the duration of the illness.
If you and your child’s co-parent can mutually reach an agreement (for instance, pausing visitation until symptoms have been absent for two weeks and a negative COVID test result has been provided and then resuming the normal schedule), there is no need to involve the court. Some agreements may even stipulate for slight deviations to which both parties have agreed. It is best to consult with your attorney and to get the agreement in writing in case the other party later claims that there was no mutual agreement. It is important to avoid willfully violating the terms of the court-ordered agreement, which could result in you being held in contempt.
If your child’s co-parent will not agree to a slight or temporary change, and adhering to the existing schedule would put your child at imminent risk (such as in the example above), you can file an emergency motion with the court to restrict parenting time. A Colorado family law attorney will explain this process to you and take all necessary steps.
Formally Modifying Parental Time and Custody Agreements
It is possible to formally modify your custody or parenting agreement, even during a pandemic. If you are unable to reach a mutual agreement with your co-parent or wish to alter the existing agreement(s) for the foreseeable future, you can appear in court (or, currently, Zoom) to plead your case. It is always advisable to make certain that the solution is the right fit for your needs by consulting with an experienced family law attorney.