Divorce During Coronavirus and Parenting Time (COVID-19)
As the North Carolina Stay-At-Home Executive Order 121 enters its second week because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19), we’ve been asked by separated parents what to do about sharing time with their children when they’re not in the same home.
Both the Wake County and the North Carolina statewide Stay-At-Home order specifically make the travel required to maintain a custody schedule an Essential Activity for which one can leave home.
In Wake County, Essential Activities for which one can leave home includes:
Traveling at the direction of law enforcement or other authorized government official as described in North Carolina Gen. Stat. 166A, including the transport of children pursuant to a custody agreement.
The North Carolina Stay-At-Home Order defines Essential Activities for which a person may leave their residence as including:
To return to or travel between one’s place or places of residence for purposes including, but not limited to, child custody or visitation arrangements.
For some parents it will be difficult to allow their children to leave the relative safety of the home they’re in to go to the other parent’s home pursuant to a custody schedule. On the other hand, the stay-at-home orders are in place for at least the month of April, a long time to limit the children’s time with one of their parents. The State and County have clearly made the determination that continued time with both parents outweighs the risk of travel between homes.
Parents with a Custody Order issued by a court should continue to abide by the Court Order. If there are circumstances, such as a healthcare worker in the other parent’s home, that raise any concerns, these parents should contact their attorney about potentially adjusting temporarily the custody arrangement in the Custody Order.
Parents who went through the collaborative process and have a Parenting Plan as part of their Separation Agreement, but who find themselves in disagreement about whether to continue the schedule (for instance if they have a child with an underlying condition that makes the child particularly at risk), these parents can quickly and easily restart the collaborative process, even as the courts are shut down because of the pandemic.
In any event, we’re optimistic that parents who have gone through the collaborative divorce process left the process with a parenting plan and an ongoing parenting relationship that will allow them to make good decisions together about the best interests of their children during this time of upheaval.