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Child Custody During COVID-19 and The Holidays

Dealing with child custody issues is stressful enough. Dealing with child custody issues during the COVID holidays poses an entirely complicated dilemma. Here’s how keep the magic alive for your children and ensure that the 2020 holidays are your best yet.

Shared custody is raising COVID-19 concerns as kids travel between households for the holidays this year. Millions of children split their time between parents every week and even more so during the holidays, but concerns over pandemic safety can make that time even more stressful.

Parents are facing unforeseen issues this year such as:

  • The child having to travel to another part of the state, or another state altogether, to visit their parent
  • One parent living in a COVID-19 hotspot
  • One parent had COVID-19 or is currently experiencing symptoms
  • One parent is not being careful about COVID-19 and could be putting the child in danger
  • One parent does not feel the virus is a true health threat
  • One parent is immunocompromised and in isolation
  • There may be a second wave and more shelter-in-place orders

These new and complex issues may be even more difficult if the courts backed up with cases because of the nationwide lockdowns this past year.

If you’re concerned about COVID-19 and your child’s holiday visitation schedule, then there are steps you can take to work it out with your co-parent, and then go directly to the court to ensure it is legally binding.

Parenting Time COVID Rules

Unless your specific court order prevents out-of-state travel or has other restrictions, then generally speaking, each parent may choose to travel during the holidays even during the pandemic, whether or not the other parent agrees. However, violating state travel laws, CDC and state quarantine guidelines and court-ordered visitation arrangements can potentially affect a custody case. Furthermore, personal issues may also arise when one parent feels safe with airline travel or interstate travel and the other parent prefers to stay at home and self-isolate.

First and foremost, if you chose to travel with your children during the holidays, check in advance for any quarantine restrictions. Following state-imposed guidelines while traveling and attending events during the holidays will help minimize or reduce any potential impact to your custody arrangement.

In Illinois, the Department of Public Health (IDPH) is offering recommendations on how to celebrate safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.  During a time when social distancing and limiting the number of people at gatherings is important, special considerations should be taken.

“COVID-19 has changed the way we work, live, and play, and will now change how we plan to celebrate the holidays,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.  “While the safest way to celebrate is with members of your household and connecting with others virtually, we know, for many, the holidays are all about family and friends, so we want to provide some tips on how to celebrate safer.”

The guidelines also say if you are hosting a holiday gathering, limit the number of guests and try to have as many activities outside as weather permits.

What this Means for Separated Parents

This is going to be a long winter for our country, businesses, schools, and families — no doubt. It will take a child-focused, selfless perspective by countless co-parents this holiday season in how to best approach visitation and traditions with families and children.

First and foremost, you must remember that child custody agreements in Illinois, and in every other state, are legally binding. As long as a parent is following these state guidelines for COVID-19 restrictions, most judges will not alter custody orders to prevent one parent from traveling with the children.

While it’s tempting to want to ask that you have your children for the entire holiday season, you should not be angry or upset with your ex-partner if you are denied this due to the schedule set by the court. This year, it is highly suggested that people who live together celebrate together, rather than mixing households. Consider hosting a virtual holiday get together or check in with your kids and mailing your gifts instead. We know it hurts to not be able to visit your children for the holidays, but if it means risking your own life to do so, it’s worthwhile to heavily consider the alternatives.

If you believe a holiday visitation or celebration could place your child and your family at a heightened risk for COVID-19, you should communicate this fact to the other parent and/or your attorney. Offer some safer options and attempt to be as flexible and compassionate as possible. Always try to set emotion aside and as parents, choose what is best for your children and your family as a whole.

Final Thoughts

This is going to be a long winter for our country, businesses, schools, and families — no doubt. It will take a child-focused, selfless perspective by countless co-parents this holiday season in how to best approach visitation and traditions with families and children. Most of all, keep in mind who the holidays are the most special for: your children.

If you need legal assistance to modify a child custody or parenting time agreement to reflect new choices that better keep your family safe, contact the experienced attorneys at Masters Law Group. We represents individuals in both their initial quest to set a parenting time schedule, as well as parents looking to modify a previously determined schedule.