The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to present difficulties for parents sharing custody and visitation rights. Parenting arrangements can become particularly contentious when parents have differing opinions on the risks of COVID or how best to protect a child from exposure. One parent may believe that the other is creating a greater risk of exposing a child to COVID. One parent may believe in schooling a child at home, while the other feels that the risks of sending the child to school are acceptable. Parents may also clash over giving the child vaccinations or in getting vaccinated themselves. Additionally, changes in employment circumstances, including job losses and transitions to remote work, can cause some parents to readjust their schedules or to relocate their residences, which can make an existing custody arrangement difficult or unworkable.
Parents are obligated to comply with court-ordered custody and visitation strictures despite holding differing opinions on COVID-related issues. Such concerns alone, even though motivated by concern for the child’s health and safety, are not enough to justify denying a parent visitation or otherwise interfering with custody privileges. Any unilateral changes made to existing arrangements could result in one parent going to court claiming a violation. Parents are encouraged to avoid such legal and emotional turmoil by working together to reach a new arrangement that can be presented to a judge for approval. As long as the proposed arrangement is found to be in the best interests of the child, judges often approve such modifications. One option being utilized with more frequency as a result of COVID is Zoom visitation when parents and children cannot meet in person.
Alternatively, if an agreement on alternative arrangements cannot be reached, one or both parents may petition the court for a modification to custody, such as to prevent a parent who may be at high risk for transmitting COVID to their child. Disagreements over vaccination can be particularly hard to resolve. While there are no reported instances of judges ordering a parent to get a vaccine, a court may order a reduction or even a cessation of parenting time if a parent is acting in ways that could endanger the child’s health and safety.
If you have been impacted by COVID in a way that you feel requires revising your custody or visitation arrangement, you should consult an experienced child custody attorney who can carefully evaluate the facts of your case and help you to undertake the most advisable course of action.
At the Law Offices of Kisha M. Hebbon, LLC in Somerset, we frequently assist divorced or single New Jersey parents in dealing with the difficult custody issues caused by the continuing pandemic. For a free initial consultation, please call the office at 732-873-6464 or contact us online anytime.