Spring Break Visitation Exchanges in the Wake of Coronavirus

Posted on Apr 6, 2020 by Katie Carter

Is there anything else to talk about besides Coronavirus and its impact on the world we thought we knew? As far as I’m concerned, I don’t really think so!

As far as it relates to custody and visitation, there are a number of related issues. It creates a really interesting and complicated set of circumstances, and has left a lot of our clients asking new questions. It’s interesting (and also a bit refreshing) to answer new questions, but there’s also no denying that there’s a lot of uncertainty out there in the world right now.

The courts are closed until April 26th at the earliest (though it looks like this is extending to match the stay at home order) as the judicial emergency has been extended, with the exception of emergency hearings (which I’ll cover more on Wednesday), schools are closed for the entire year, and the governor just announced a stay at home order at the beginning of last week.

We’ve talked a couple of times now about how this impacts custody and visitation, but now another question: What about spring break?

Schools are closed, so is spring break a thing? What about visitation? What about visitation that involves traveling? What should you do?

…I don’t know. And I can’t ask a judge, or file any petitions, with the courts closed. There are a lot of complicated issues here, and I’m going to try to unpack them.

Is spring break even a thing, for custody and visitation purposes, with the schools closed?

I think it’s clear that, in most (if not all) cases, the schools are intending for there to be a “spring break”. There is a break from instructional time, at least, as they try to keep to their academic schedule, somewhat as planned.

So, although it’s a little tricky, I’d say the answer to this question is yes.

If we already have an agreement in place about spring break, should I follow it?

I wrote an article last week about coparenting in the wake of all of this corona stuff, and I think that, mostly, it holds true. To the extent that you already have a custody order or agreement in place, follow it, unless something crazy is happening. It’s probably NOT going to be a good idea to say to your child’s father that you’re not going to follow it just because of all this craziness, without some sort of better reason.

Example? Well, if there’s a medical issue – like, you and your child both have been advised to quarantine, or if you’re both immunocompromised, and your child’s father works at a hospital treating COVID-19 patients. Or whatever. I may be exaggerating this example, but suffice it to say that I think it’s probably a good idea to follow a doctor’s advice, whether you and your child are a risk to your child’s father, or whether your child’s father poses the greatest risk to your child.

If you have a specific question, though, talk to an attorney one on one.

In general, the courts are probably apt to be fairly forgiving, if only because this is such a crazy and unpredictable thing. Still, just completely withholding visitation isn’t wise as a general practice, without more going on.

If I deny visitation, or if we mutually decide to skip it, what should I be doing instead to make sure I protect myself?

You know what’s still working? (Besides our nation’s doctors and nurses, that is.) WIFI. The internet. And THANK GOODNESS, because how else would people be able to stream that crazy tiger show? But also, the internet makes things like Skype visitation possible. Is it perfect? No. But it’s possible.

I’ve seen lots of things where friends are doing book clubs, partners are doing date nights, and even teachers are teaching classes using all sorts of different platforms. You could do a movie screening, a game night, or even let your kid have dinner with your child over any kind of web chatting platform.

You’ll have to find some creative solutions, but it’s definitely possible.

What if the spring break plans involved travel?

This…is where it gets dicey. It’s all fine and dandy to suggest sharing parenting time when both parents live in the same area, right? Well, maybe not fine and dandy, what with all this pandemic stuff happening. It’s hard, especially if one or both parents are still working. Even though there’s a stay at home order, essential personnel can report, and that can mean that all sorts of crazy potential contaminants are introduced.

Can you fly your child somewhere for spring break? Well, you can. Should you? It’s hard to say. If I were you, I definitely wouldn’t be planning on sending my child to New York or Michigan right about now, but maybe some other places are safer? Or perhaps you plan, instead, to travel by car? Well, maybe – but, of course, there’s inherent risk.

This is something that, unfortunately, I think needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. Will judges be forgiving later? Maybe. Probably. But it’s also important that it doesn’t appear as though you’re abusing any privileges you might currently have under your existing custody order or agreement.

Obviously, we all want to be safe and healthy, and that has to take precedence at a time like this. But you can’t use your custody order to keep your children away from their father unnecessarily. Talk to us if you have questions, or if you want to work on creating a temporary modified custody agreement to cover the world as it exists today.

For more information or to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.