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How does COVID-19 impact custody and parenting time?

Oftentimes, parents with the best intentions disagree on how to manage the health, safety, and medical issues of their children. Throw in a pandemic and navigating custody and access becomes even more of a challenge with COVID-19 CDC recommendations and government-imposed restrictions. As a practitioner, this is a first, and we are all seeking some guidance from the judiciary to help us support and advise our clients on these issues. The Maryland Judiciary has put out the following statement on matters concerning children and families.

With schools closed and courthouses restricting operations to reduce exposure to COVID-19, custodians who live apart might be confused about changing family situations and their court orders. This statement is intended to clarify concerns you may have regarding these matters.
Custody and Parenting Time:
All court orders for a child’s custody, parenting time, and child support are still in effect. In some situations, if permitted under the court order, custodians can jointly adjust their shared parenting responsibilities in ways they can agree are best for the children. If custodians are not able to agree, the court order controls.
Working with limited staff, the Circuit Courts are only hearing family law emergencies where there is a credible risk of imminent and substantial physical or emotional harm to a child or parent.

While the above is helpful, it does not answer every question that has or will arise during this pandemic. Is a parent a first responder? A doctor or nurse working at the hospitals treating COVID patients? Does a parent live with an elderly relative or someone with an underlying health condition? Does the order require the child to leave the state? What are the travel restrictions of that state? What are the quarantine restrictions of each state involved? The questions could go on and on. The point is there is not a one size fits all answer. I have learned over my years of practice no two cases are the same and similar facts may yield very different results depending on case specific circumstances. During these difficult times, general advice for parents is to use common sense, act with decency, always keep the true best interests of your child(ren) at the forefront and make the best decisions you can with the information you have. However, if parents cannot agree on a mutual course of action, the court order prevails and must be followed otherwise contempt proceedings could be initiated.

For more information on Maryland child custody matters contact an experienced divorce attorney.

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