How have other State courts responded to emergency petitions for custody due to COVID-19?
As fears surrounding COVID-19 continue to increase and parents in divided households struggle to do what they think is best for their children’s health and safety, below are two examples of how emergency requests have been handled in other States, Florida and New Jersey.
In Orange County, Florida a mother filed for temporary custody of her child after first-responder (firefighter/EMT) father did not voluntarily agree to allow her to keep their child in her care until the Florida’s state of emergency due to COVID-19 ends. The Judge denied the mother’s request stating there was no evidence the father was failing to take proper safety precautions or otherwise acting in a way to place the child in danger. The Judge further found “there is no evidence indicating the continuation of timesharing would subject the minor child to any risk of harm specific to the actions of behavior of the father”. The full news article can be found here.
In New Jersey, a father filed for temporary custody of his child after the mother, a physician, continued to see patients in person in the hospital during the COVID-19 outbreak. The New Jersey Court granted an emergency order and awarded the father temporary custody of the child. After the mother was able to commit to telework/health and to not see patients in person, the Judge reversed the Order. The full news article can be found here.
NEW FLORIDA DECISION: On April 14, 2020 the Third District Court of Appeals in Miami, Florida stayed a lower court’s Order which had temporarily awarded custody of a four year old to the father. In this case the mother and father shared custody of their daughter, however upon the outbreak of the coronavirus the father sought temporary custody because he believed the mother’s job as an emergency room doctor placed the child at a greater risk for contracting the virus. The lower court did award the father temporary custody of the child ruling the child was at a heightened risk of contracting the contagious virus as a result of her mother’s work. The appellate court has stayed the decision of the lower court and restored the prior order allowing the mother and father to share custody of their daughter. It is reported the legal issues continue between these parties. The full article can be found here.
The two lower state court situations above are very similar, but two completely different results. If you are in Maryland and need solid advice on how to approach your custody and access arrangement as a result of COVID-19, you should contact an experienced family law attorney.