Child custody was already a complicated matter before the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic made it dangerous for some parents to divide time spent with a child. The coronavirus has changed the landscape of parenting time and visitation orders with safety measures such as lockdowns and stay-at-home rules. Families now have to consider new challenges when dividing custody between households in a divorce case.
Greater Collaboration Between Parents
Divorced parents have had to come together more than ever for the sake of their children during the coronavirus pandemic. For many families, it has not been a viable option to continue following a judge’s child custody arrangement without communicating new concerns and issues. Many families have had to change the way they do things to protect the safety of their children, such as limiting the number of transitions between two households. Transparent communication between spouses has been integral.
If you are a divorced co-parent during the pandemic, do your best to communicate openly and effectively with both your ex and your child. Voice your concerns if you have fears or anxieties about your child’s safety. Do not, however, take custody into your own hands. You do not have the legal right to change a custody agreement. You and your spouse must agree to an alteration together or you must obtain a court order from a judge. Open communication is key to maintaining a child custody and visitation agreement that works for everyone in these unprecedented times.
Use of Technology to Bridge the Gap
Families with the greatest concerns about the coronavirus and child custody are often dealing with issues such as one parent being an essential worker who is at an increased risk of contracting the virus, or a parent who is vulnerable to the virus not being able to risk in-person visits with a child. If your circumstances prevent you and your ex-spouse from sharing in-person time with your child the way you used to with your custody agreement, turn to technology to bridge the gap.
Many families are using videoconferencing tools such as Zoom, Skype and Facetime to allow parents to see their children while social distancing. Consider whether digital visitation is the right option for your family if you are worried about the risk of contracting the virus with in-person parenting time. Communicate with your ex-spouse to make sure he or she is on the same page. If you refuse to let your co-parent see your child without a court order, or vice versa, this can lead to being held in contempt of court, with consequences such as potential jail time.
What About a Pre-Existing Court Order?
If you fear for your child’s safety with COVID-19, you can file for an emergency modification to your custody agreement. You cannot modify custody without permission from a judge. The law in Colorado obligates you and your ex-spouse to follow the court-ordered child custody and visitation agreement already in place before COVID-19. If your family is concerned about sharing time between households, such as concerns about exposing a child with special needs or health conditions to the virus, you can file a new motion with the court to restrict your ex-spouses parenting time.
To change a custody agreement during the pandemic, you will need to prove that your co-parent has either tested positive to the coronavirus or that he or she poses a high risk of danger due to his or her occupation. Judges in Colorado decide on changes to custody agreements ordered pre-coronavirus on a case-by-case basis. If you need help protecting your child during the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic by altering a child custody order or if you need assistance going up against a spouse who is withholding custody, contact an attorney in Fort Collins for advice.