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Holiday Travel, Child Custody, and a Surge of COVID

Holiday travel and child custody issues are often sources of contention between parents. Ensure that your custody order allows you to travel out of state with your children before leaving your state. Suppose there is no language to prevent either parent from taking the children out of the state. In that case, either parent is free to travel during their custodial time even when the other parent disagrees with the travel, particularly during the recent rise in COVID-19 cases.

With many families having not seen or spent time with extended family in months, the holidays may prove to be a challenging time. Could this be Grandma or Grandpa’s last holiday? Has a favorite aunt, uncle, or other family member been in failing health lately? Does your family need the comfort and company of extended family to get through the holidays after a messy divorce? These are all concerns that can lead one parent to ignore another state’s pandemic guidelines and quarantine restrictions.

If the state that you plan to visit has a mandatory two-week quarantine restriction and you do not have two weeks of custodial time, you will have to violate either that state’s quarantine order or your custody agreement. Regardless of whether you are in agreement with current COVID restrictions or limits imposed by a particular entity, following the guidelines can potentially reduce your exposure to both the virus and costly court proceedings brought by the other parent. If the other parent can show that your actions were not in the best interests of the children while in your care, a court could potentially amend your current order. As a general rule, if a parent follows the recommended state guidelines and takes precautions to prevent exposure to COVID, a court is not likely to alter the custody order.

If you choose to travel, follow all recommended guidelines, and either you or your children still contracts the virus, you cannot use this as a reason to keep the child away from the other parent. The noncustodial parent should be notified of the positive test or exposure immediately. If that parent then chooses to enforce the custody order, you must allow the children to visit the other parent. Preventing the other parent from exercising their court-ordered custodial time invites additional legal actions. It can also lead to you paying attorney fees and costs for the other parent’s motion for contempt of court. Rather than refusing to allow visitation, if you, your former partner, or the children have tested positive and the other parent wished to enforce the order, offer to make up the time missed during the quarantine. If the other parent refuses to make up time after they no longer have symptoms, you will have to abide by the order.

Remember, if you are not sure of what your court order does and does not allow, the advice of a family law attorney can help you decide the best course of action.