COVID-19 Family Law Custody Issues
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for everybody. Even as we’re starting to look forward to a new normal, there is still a lot of uncertainty, and misinformation isn’t making things any easier. Indeed, it has proven to be a difficult presence during divorce proceedings and custody issues, too.
While the majority of parents are likely to raise issues related to the virus out of genuine concern for their children’s health, there are certainly those who are using it for less than honest reasons. Examples of utilizing COVID precautions as leverage to alter custody arrangements has seen fathers deprived of their rights. The good news is that parents who are supported by a skilled family law attorney with knowledge of COVID issues have found that courts across the country have been relatively intolerant of such cases that are brought without merit.
The important thing to remember is that, whatever problems you’re facing, or whatever questions you have, a qualified divorce attorney will help you navigate the mediation and court system. As the premier child custody lawyers for dads in Tampa, FL, In Law We Trust, P.A. will put you on the right path. Between 2014 to 2017, the law firm of In Law We Trust, P.A., was one of the National Trial Lawyers of America Top 40 under 40 in Florida — a professional organization by invitation only, composed of the top trial lawyers from each state or region who are under the age of 40. Our firm is dedicated to helping fathers arrange fair divorce and child custody outcomes, including mounting an appropriate response to COVID-related family law issues.
That said, it’s vital for parents to understand where they stand on some of the common issues surrounding custody and the pandemic. Let’s take a look at some of the primary areas for focus.
Safety will always be a concern for parents and courts alike. However, the concept of not taking COVID-19 seriously is pretty ambiguous. As such, this alone should not be a reason for withholding court ordered visitation or custody rights.
If you feel that your ex’s pandemic skeptical behavior is actively putting your children at additional risk, you should immediately contact a COVID savvy family law attorney to discuss your concerns. Never take the matter into your own hands unless your child is in clear, imminent danger — the courts will take a dim view of any parent acting unilaterally against court ordered visitation or custody. Your attorney will be able to provide you with advice, and make arrangements with the courts.
Similarly, if your ex is withholding custody from you because they disagree with your approach to the pandemic, they are acting against court orders. Contact your attorney, who will either be able to arrange for mediation between parents, or submit a complaint to the court. It is important not to act rashly, and document all communications between you and your former spouse to provide to your attorney.
It can be difficult to see your ex taking what you would consider to be risks that you disagree with, and it’s only natural that you feel this might put your children in unnecessary potential harm. Certainly, there can be blurred lines here, particularly when it comes to matters such as mask-wearing or gathering in large groups.
One of the common problems that seems to arise, is a parent seeing their ex on social media among more people than are recommended in official safety guidelines. This can also be exacerbated by inadequate mouth or nasal protection. As a result, the parent might attempt to restrict custody access to their former partner, stating that there is an imminent safety issue.
Whichever side of the situation you are on, this is unlikely to be considered adequate grounds for illegitimately altering court-ordered custody or visitation arrangements. Yes, not wearing a mask around others is against medical expert advice, as is gathering in large numbers. However, most of the time this is not unlawful behavior, or directly harmful to the children involved. If this situation arises, and you are uncertain of your best course of action, a COVID conscious family law attorney will be able to provide you with the most relevant expert advice on what actions you should be taking.
As we head toward the new normal, vaccines are a key tool in keeping the population safe. That said, the subject has also been used as an instrument by parents to negatively impact custody arrangements. Largely this comes from the perspective of one parent refusing to allow visitation or return to custody until the other parent has obtained their vaccinations.
On one hand, this could be considered important from the perspective of keeping children safe, particularly those who are in at-risk categories. However, the argument is problematic from a few perspectives:
Purpose of the vaccine – It’s important to remember that the vaccine doesn’t present guaranteed immunity from contracting or carrying COVID-19. Though it is rare to catch the virus after receiving vaccinations, its primary efficacy is in ensuring milder symptoms and effects if you do catch it. Therefore, there is no logical — or indeed legal — reason to withhold custody on the basis that the child is not safe until either parent has been vaccinated.
Availability of the vaccine – While good progress is being made on the rollout of the vaccine, it is still primarily available to those in vulnerable groups. As such, it will generally not be a matter of one parent refusing to get vaccinated and putting children at additional risk. Not to mention that withholding custody until a vaccine is available — which may be months down the road — is unreasonable. Your family lawyer can advise you whether COVID-19 vaccination can legitimately be considered a factor for temporarily adjusting visitation or custody agreements.
Choice to Refuse the Vaccine – Even though the vaccine is part of a wide range of measures to prevent COVID-19, there will be some people who make a personal choice to refuse vaccination. Whatever their reasons — whether they have safety concerns or efficacy queries — this cannot be used as grounds to withhold custody or visitation rights in the majority of cases. Divorced parents will often have matters that they disagree on, but these should never impact the division of custody; this is not fair on the children or the non-custodial parent. As always, if there is a safety concern about COVID-19 your family lawyer will recommend you not to take unilateral action. Rather, official steps through mediation or the courts are needed to alter custody agreements
One area that can frequently become problematic during and following a divorce, is new relationships. When a former spouse gets a new partner, jealousy can rear its ugly head, and this can often lead to using the significant other’s behavior as an unfounded excuse to alter the custody arrangements.
We’ve seen this happen during the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, this has been the aforementioned unsafe grouping or refusal to wear a mask. In others, it has been the case that a new partner works in medical or other frontline professions, and the former spouse claims that this puts your children at exposure risk. Indeed, it may even be the case that the behavior of other relatives may be considered to put children at risk. Particularly if, grandparents are COVID-skeptical and refuse to take the precautions that keep everyone safe.
Whichever side of the equation you’re on, this can be a difficult situation. It’s important to note that, unless it has been officially deemed in the child’s best interests, Florida family law doesn’t extend visitation rights to anybody but the parents. However, that doesn’t mean to say that one parent can withhold parental visitation or custody due to the behavior of another relationship. Your first step is to try to make reasonable agreements between parents. Discuss your concerns, and seek to reassure one other. If a partner is working at a hospital, discuss what precautions are being taken; in some cases, they’ll already be self-isolating when risks arise. If grandparents refuse to take precautions, seek to mutually agree to limited, distanced contact only.
If discussions don’t proceed as planned, this doesn’t mean that a parent can deny custody. If the withdrawal of the children is a necessary step, it is a matter for the courts to decide. However, there have already been cases in other states where such decisions have been overturned on appeal. Speaking to a family lawyer with COVID expertise can set you off on the right and legal path to resolving these issues. The important thing to remember is, though these situations are emotionally charged, don’t act independently and without guidance, as this may damage your standing in the eyes of the law should the matter come to court.
Tampa Child Custody for Men During COVID-19
Your children and their ongoing safety are clearly among your primary considerations. The pandemic has brought this into sharp focus, but it has also given rise to custody issues. Going through a divorce is stressful enough, without your partner withdrawing custody or visitation for what seems like illicit reasons. Likewise, it may seem natural to try to protect your children from the unsafe behavior of a parent or extended family. Whatever the situation, don’t act alone. A competent, aggressive, experienced COVID savvy family attorney is essential. Call us to begin the representation of you and your family at this difficult time. We will promptly review the details of the case and provide you with the dependable advice and court representation that you deserve. In Law We Trust, P.A. is a firm of compassion and expertise in Tampa child custody for fathers. We will work very hard to help you achieve your child custody goals.