Are Custodial Exchanges Considered Essential Travel During COVID-19?
Are custodial exchanges considered essential travel during COVID-19?
I do not practice law in your state. Therefore, I cannot inform you as to the specific laws of your state, but I can provide you with general tips for this sort of issue. I am licensed to practice law in the state of Ohio.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic, many parents have wondered if their obligations, in regard to court-ordered custody arrangements, have changed. Of course, there are no statutes or case law on the issue, which has led to conflicting opinions.
Generally, all parents should adhere to their court-ordered parenting schedule. However, parents must pay close attention to any government orders or advisories in their jurisdiction. Some local courts may have orders or advisory memoranda on their opinion on the matter, which should be relied on if you are subject to that specific court’s jurisdiction. Additionally, most states have specific orders that expressly state what is to be considered “essential travel.”
For instance, Ohio’s “stay-at-home” order defines essential travel and expressly includes in its definition “Travel to care for elderly, minors, dependents, persons with disabilities, or other vulnerable persons.” Further, Ohio’s order states “Travel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement” is essential travel.
Therefore, parents in Ohio are permitted to travel to exchange children pursuant to a court-ordered custody agreement. Fortunately, other states have similar, detailed orders that address issues of custody and child exchanges. If they do not specifically refer to a court order or custody agreement, other sections of a state’s order may imply what is permitted, such as language about traveling to care for a child.
Despite some states’ specific reference to custody agreements or traveling to care for a child, parents should use their common sense and be mindful of the consequences of their actions.
For instance, if a parent knows or is confident they have COVID-19, they should not insist on the other parent giving them the child for their court-ordered parenting time. Not only do these actions put the child and others at risk, such actions will not look favorable in front of a court due to that parent’s blatant disregard for the child’s health and safety. Such actions can be especially egregious if the child has health problems, such as a compromised immune system.
Therefore, despite parents being permitted to exchange children for court-ordered parenting time, in some situations, it may be best to temporarily forgo parenting time and try to agree upon “make up time” after the ill parent is well again. In such situations, parents should attempt to communicate via text or email and document their concerns and efforts to remedy the situation in case a contempt action is filed.
If a parent is withholding a child, or if you do not believe a parent should exercise their parenting time due to a serious health concern, you should consult with an attorney in your jurisdiction.