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Holidays and Child Custody in the Time of COVID-19

In 2020, the holiday season will be one of the most tumultuous in recent years now that Covid-19 rates are beginning to rise again. For parents with ongoing custody cases or custody orders already in place, it presents an especially trying time. Travel is a large component of every holiday season. But before parents and children travel to see their relatives, they need to spend few minutes reflecting on their current custody arrangements. Violating a court order or recklessly leaving on a holiday trip can hurt your case or bring you in contempt of court.

The most obvious risk is contracting the virus while on holiday. These days, everyone must be fluid and flexible with their plans. Last minute changes due to coronavirus should not come as a surprise at this point, but parents with travel plans need to be able to respond to situations appropriately. If a relative you planned on seeing over Thanksgiving tests positive for Covid, then you must limit yours and your children’s risk to exposure and also communicate with your co-parent. Not doing so may open a parent up to court-ordered remedies. Similarly, if you or your children return from a trip with symptoms or a positive test, then communicate with your co-parent or with your attorney.

Before the children leave on a trip, parents should research the local advisories on Covid-19. Because spread of the virus occurs person to person in close proximity, many states have instituted rules to prevent large indoor gatherings. Similarly, you may see restrictions on travel if a person tests positive and restrictions on numbers of people allowed in an indoor commercial space (such as a restaurant). Here in North Carolina, a new alert system has been implemented that allows high-risk counties to implement their own restrictions and penalties. While the state is set to go to “Phase 3” on December 4, that may change and the rules may be further restricted or expanded. Parents should also make sure to be aware of testing locations in case they experience symptoms while on the trip. Hospitals are being hit hard with Covid-related admissions; it would also be wise to check whether the local hospitals in the area can easily accommodate new emergency patients. While you may feel like you or your children are healthy, we know that the virus affects everyone differently, and hospital stays are not outside the realm of possibility. If your custody arrangement has no provisions regarding travel, sickness, or Covid, then you could find yourself facing a legal issue if your children are kept away because of an extended stay.

If you have plans to visit relatives or to leave on a vacation, especially one out of state, it is always advisable to consult with your attorney before leaving. Know the local restrictions of where you are going. Preparations should be made for both the medical and the legal effects of Covid. Be safe and healthy!