The COVID-19 pandemic has caused countless disruptions in the daily lives of many people, but for parents who share custody of their children, there may also be additional issues. In some instances, parents have refused to send their children to the other parent, citing concerns over coronavirus contagion.
The Wrong Way to Handle COVID-19 Custody Concerns
In Santa Clara County, California, for example, at least nine cases have arisen in which one parent violated an existing custody agreement based on expressed concerns over their children contacting COVID-19 while with the other parent.
Authorities aren't making light of this “legitimate, very scary concern” of parents, according to Santa Clara County's Deputy District Attorney Erica Engin, but at the same time, the pandemic doesn't grant a custodial parent the right to make decisions that affect the court-granted custody rights of the other parent — and certainly not to withhold custody time.
Indeed, courts and other legal officials have been clear that child custody agreements already in place should not be affected by COVID-19 concerns, at least not by unilateral action by one of the parties such as refusing to deliver children to the other parent in direct violation of an existing custody agreement or order.
All of that is not to say that parents are without recourse if they have legitimate concerns over situations such as a parent's employment as an essential worker or scheduling issues because of working from home, etc. In such cases, you should attempt to work out the issue with your co-parent and come to an agreement on the issue. Taking action on your own without consulting or having the consent of the other parent, however, is not advisable.
New Jersey Law and COVID-19
In New Jersey, the government has been proactive in addressing this potential issue by providing information on the FAQ page concerning COVID-19. Specifically, the government addresses the question of what to do if you are having child custody issues during the pandemic.
First of all, as noted above, you should try to resolve the issue with your co-parent, opting even for mediation if you cannot reach an agreement on your own.
Still, the government notes, “[i]f immediate and permanent harm will occur if your case isn't heard immediately, you can file your family case as an emergent matter through the State's court system.” Such cases involve requests for “emergency custody, termination of visitation, or temporary prevention of relocation of a child outside of New Jersey.”
If you are having custody issues related to COVID-19 in New Jersey, please contact the Lento Law Firm online or call (888) 535-3686 today to discuss your options.