How COVID-19 Complicates Child Custody

Recently, CNN debuted an article about an emergency room doctor in Miami, Dr. Theresa Greene, who lost custody of her daughter due to an emergency custody modification received by her ex. The reason Dr. Greene lost custody? Her ex was concerned that Greene's status as an essential worker put her at risk of contracting the coronavirus, and subsequently left him and their children at increased risk of infection.

Dr. Greene's story is far from unique. The New York Times also wrote a story about a New Jersey physician, Dr. Bertha Mayorquin, who found herself in an identical situation. To successfully appeal the order and regain custody of her children, Dr. Mayorquin had to agree to work for the hospital remotely in a telemedicine capacity, instead of on the front lines.

Note: Dr. Greene’s case was recently reversed in her favor. While the reversal of the case may set a precedent going forwards for other similar cases to be reversed, many parents still face unexpected emergency custody order modifications from exes concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their custody arrangement.

At the end of the process, Dr. Mayorquind had a simple question: "Are our children going to be taken away from us because we are on the front lines helping people?" Dr. Greene mirrored that sentiment, saying, "I think it's not fair, it's cruel to ask me to choose between my child and the oath I took as a physician."

COVID-19 and Child Custody: Unexpected Complications

Child custody has emerged as an unexpected issue for many couples during the coronavirus crisis. In addition to essential workers such as Dr. Greene and Dr. Mayorquin, who face losing custody of their children if they continue working, the pandemic has had unforeseen effects on custody arrangements.

For example, schools are closed early for the year, and most childcare facilities are limited to serving the children of essential workers. Removing both these locations, which are commonly used to exchange custody, can make the process of transferring custody more complicated. Additionally, many parents are currently working from home, making it difficult to care for children or ensure they get the schooling they need.

A skyrocketing unemployment rate also complicates child custody arrangements. Currently, more than 20 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, and the current unemployment rate of 14.7% is higher than at any point in time since the great depression. While government provisions such as a stimulus check and increased unemployment benefits may help parents care for children now, the financial future of many parents remains uncertain. This lack of financial security may impact custody arrangements going forward for a significant number of parents.

Adding to an ever-increasing list of complications, children are more at risk for the coronavirus than previously thought. The New York Health Department recently issued an advisory warning parents that a small number of children who contracted the virus subsequently suffered from toxic-shock-like symptoms similar to Kawasaki Disease. These factors make the concerns of parents with exes who are essential workers more understandable—no parent wants to put their child at risk.

Tips for Dealing with Child Custody Issues and COVID-19

If you're concerned about how the COVID-19 pandemic may affect your child custody arrangement, here are a few best practices you can keep in mind:

  • Open communication between parents is vital. We understand that many parents engaged in child custody arrangements are estranged, but honest communication between parties is crucial to ensure the parents secure the best interests of the children. If one parent is an essential worker, discuss how that may impact the child custody arrangement. In light of recent news about how the coronavirus can affect children, it may be wise for a parent or trusted family member at low risk of contracting the coronavirus to take custody of the children until the pandemic eases. To avoid instigating an escalating legal conflict between parents, both parents should maintain open communication with one another—either personally or through attorneys—to establish a mutually beneficial arrangement.
  • If joint custody is the norm, ensure both parents have consistent contact with the children. If one parent can't take physical custody of the children as they usually would, arrange consistent video chats using software like Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom to help them maintain contact.
  • Discuss how your children are feeling. The cancellation of school and the ability to spend time with friends in-person may make children depressed. For teenagers and young adults, the cancellation of important events like prom, graduation, or on-campus activities at college may be distressing. This isn't an easy time for anyone. Ensuring both parents understand how their children feel can help both parties co-parent the children more effectively and pursue their best interests.
  • Follow CDC guidelines for childcare. Particularly in light of how the coronavirus may impact children, ensuring both parents practice good hygiene and preventative measures is more important than ever. Make sure you and your ex are on the same page when it comes to issues such as wearing a mask and gloves outdoors, disinfecting packages, and maintaining social distancing.

We understand that many parents are worried about how the COVID-19 pandemic may affect their child custody arrangement. Our family lawyers can help you determine the best way to proceed with your child custody case.

To receive a consultation from our firm and discuss your child custody options, contact us online or via phone at (303) 747-4748.