It is an unprecedented time for parents as they cope with the novel COVID-19/coronavirus pandemic. Canceled school, closed-down day cares and shelter-in-place orders have led to a lot of confusion and frustration for parents with small children. If you and your ex-spouse have a custody agreement from a divorce or separation in Colorado, you could be at a loss as to how to accommodate your order without jeopardizing the safety of your child. Here is what you need to know about handling custody and visitation safely and legally during COVID-19.
COVID-19 and Social Distancing Rules
As of mid-May 2020, the COVID-19 virus has taken close to 100,000 lives in the US alone. Colorado has reported more than 23,000 cases and 1,300 deaths. The virus appears to spread fastest through face-to-face contact. Federal and state governments are taking steps to try to curb the spread of the virus, such as issuing shelter-in-place orders and social distancing rules. Social distancing refers to staying at least six feet away from people whom you are not in isolation with. It also refers to avoiding group gatherings and crowded places. Anyone who does not live in your household should stay away under social distancing guidelines.
How Do Social Distancing Rules Affect Custody Arrangements?
Social distancing becomes more complicated when a family has a child that usually divides his or her time between both parents. Shelter-in-place and social distancing measures do not easily accommodate a child going back and forth between two different households. The coronavirus does not, however, give a parent the right to breach a custody agreement. Your spouse cannot lawfully withhold custody or visitation for fear of your child contracting COVID-19.
If your ex-spouse is refusing custody or visitation, take the matter to the family courts in Fort Collins using alternate filing procedures requesting a judge’s intervention. You can file electronically, through the mail or using a drop-box location. Many judges in Colorado are making rulings virtually. Make it clear to your co-parent that the courts are not tolerating custody violations during COVID-19 and that he or she could be held in contempt of court for refusing to let you see your child. This could be enough to force your ex-spouse to obey your custody order.
The coronavirus may not change things from a legal perspective, but parents may still have valid concerns over the health and safety of their children. If you worry about your child’s risk of exposure – especially if your ex-spouse works in health care, is exhibiting COVID-19 symptoms or your child is high-risk – discuss the issue with your spouse. Hopefully, your spouse will be reasonable and work with you to minimize the risks to your child. Both households can take extra precautions and sanitary measures, for example, as well as limit who visits each home.
How Will the Response to COVID-19 Affect My Case in the Courts?
If you and your ex-spouse just filed for divorce or were in the middle of a divorce case when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the rest of your case will look different than it did before. The Colorado courts currently remain closed to in-person visits. Most divorce lawyers, however, are continuing their work on cases like usual. They have transitioned to virtual and telecommunication technologies to avoid face-to-face contact with their clients but are still processing claims. You and your ex-spouse may still be able to achieve a divorce settlement or alter a custody plan during COVID-19 using web-based technologies.
Speak to a Family Lawyer
During COVID-19, it may be in your child’s best interests for you and your ex-spouse to agree on temporary custody changes, such as making up missed in-person visits later. Try to work together with your co-parent to create the best temporary parenting plan for your family. Then, have a judge sign off on the changes to cover your legal bases. If your family needs assistance handling a custody matter during the COVID-19 pandemic, contact a child custody attorney. An attorney can help you draft agreements, file petitions, protect your rights and more during this uncertain time.