In times of uncertainty relating to our and our loved ones’ health, most parents with custody agreements are torn between abiding their visitation schedules and helping to “Flatten the Curve.” Our Family Law Team at Corthell and King Law Offices, P.C. has put together some answers to the most frequently asked questions. This information is not legal advice, but rather general legal information. Some of these answers might change as we receive more guidance from the Wyoming Supreme Court and our local District Courts. If you have a question about your specific case, we recommend calling the office so we can assist you.
ISSUE 1: Do I have to abide by the Visitation Agreement in times of Covid-19?
Obviously, many parents do not want to expose their child to environments where their child could be exposed to someone carrying the Covid-19 virus. While your child(ren) are with you, you have the ability to effectively minimize any exposure and to shield more vulnerable members of your family from contact with potential carriers.
This situation drastically changes, as your child(ren) leave your home to visit with the other parent. Fears arise regarding exposure, and how to manage your child(ren) returning home after a visit with the other parent where you are unsure if they have been exposed. Some parents might be tempted to prohibit visitation with the other parent during the course of the Covid-19 pandemic.
However, as tempting as it may be, you cannot simply refuse visitation because of the current emergency circumstances. Always remember, custody/visitation orders are the practical “how-to manual” of parents in exercising their constitutional rights. When you unilaterally decide to modify this “how-to manual” amidst Covid-19, you are violating the other parent’s constitutional rights AND a valid Court order. This will likely mean that the judge presiding over your case will not be too pleased when the other parent brings that violation to the Court’s attention.
Instead, work with the other parent to figure out how to best keep your child(ren) safe during this pandemic. If you two cannot come to an agreement, it may be worth asking the Court for guidance.
ISSUE 2: Do I have to let my child visit with an infected person in times of Covid-19?
Does the above information mean you just have to let your child visit with someone that is displaying symptoms, or even worse has been confirmed positive for Covid-19? Well, not so fast! Remember, the Custody/Visitation Agreement does not only consider the parents’ constitutional rights, but it also takes into consideration the rights of the minor child. In essence the “how-to manual” (the Custody/Visitation Order), is purposely drafted to serve the best interest of the minor child(ren), and the parent’s right to familial association, generally, do not supersede the right of the child(ren) to be free from harm. In a case where the other parent, or someone living in that persons household, is displaying symptoms of Covid-19, or has been confirmed positive of being infected with the virus, call your attorney immediately regarding the visitation obligations.
ISSUE 3: I lost my job/income because of Covid-19, do I still have to pay child support?
While financial crises are always an incredible hardship on everyone involved, generally, it does not absolve a parent from the reasonability of paying child support. At this point due to the Covid-19 pandemic, some industries are more affected than others. If you are employed in one of the severely impacted industries (food service/gastronomy, tourism, hotel & lodging, travel, etc.) it would be in your best interest to contact your attorney immediately to seek a temporary reduction in child support while we as a nation are weathering the Covid-19 crisis.
ISSUE 4: What about Grandparent-Visitation during Covid-19?
The demographic that is being hit the hardest by the Covid-19 pandemic in the family law arena are grandparents. While some grandparents do not fall into the high-risk age group, most certainly do. For the grandparents within this demographic that chose to establish their visitation rights to their grandchild(ren) via a Court Order or Stipulated Agreement, they are now worried that not exercising their scheduled visitation may constitute a waiver of their future rights to see their grandchild(ren). Others are worried that not exercising visitation will be used against them down the road by a hostile parent.
Generally, Grandparents’ rights are statutory rights and are well recognized in Wyoming. Just as with general custody orders, the best interest of the child(ren) is paramount. However, contact with your grandchild(ren) during the times of the Covid-19 crisis poses a real threat to your health. Therefore, generally speaking not exercising visitation with your grandchild(ren) during the Covid-19 pandemic, is not only prudent, but the right thing to do as we do not fully understand yet how the virus will affect the different ages. We believe that in most circumstances precautionary measures of grandparents regarding visitation with their grandchild(ren) during the Covid-19 pandemic will be understood by the Courts, rather than scrutinized.
ISSUE 5: What about Court mandated third party services during Covid-19?
If you have a current order that requires you (or the other party) to use third party services (such as a supervised visitation location, take parenting classes, etc.), you may be wondering how the Covid-19 pandemic will affect the visitation. Unfortunately, due to the conditions included in your Custody/Visitation Order you are dependent on others to ensure that you are following the Court’s orders. Obviously, you cannot avail yourself or the child(ren) to a facility that has closed due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. However, this does not absolve yourself or the other parent from complying with the Court’s order. Take every step necessary and possible to comply with the Order. If it is impossible, visitation may have to wait until the facilities/providers open again.
ISSUE 6: General thoughts surrounding Covid-19?
Maybe now more than ever, it is imperative for parents to co-parent effectively and check their egos for the benefit of their child(ren). The key to successful parenting during the Covid-19 pandemic is simple: Communication. Do your best to communicate with the other parent regarding any concerns that you have regarding the child(ren)’s exposure to the virus, and discuss the necessary steps to keep your child(ren), yourself, and members of risk groups in all families that the child(ren) come into contact with safe.
The above is general information ONLY and is not legal advice, does not form an attorney-client relationship, and should NOT be relied upon to take or refrain from taking any action. We are not your attorneys unless you have retained Corthell and King Law Office, P.C. In the event you have inquires, you should seek the advice of competent counsel before taking any action.