Can I refuse overnight visitation because of coronavirus?
The pandemic is changing the world. It’s changing everything, and there’s a lot of underlying fear causing people to make decisions that are more or less conducive to supporting a parenting arrangement.
I’ve heard of all sorts of things recently. Parents not wanting to send their children to visitation is nothing new, of course, but COVID-19 has changed things. Even though the governor’s stay at home order clearly allows exceptions for custody and visitation exchanges, that doesn’t mean that everyone is down with just exchanging the children.
All sorts of issues have arisen. Can a parent travel with the child? If they do, can they travel by air? Or car? What about stepchildren visiting in and out of each home? What if the other parent(s) aren’t enforcing the stay at home order, and are exposing you and your other children to who-knows-what? What if you’re immune compromised? What if the child is? What if a stepchild is? What if one of the parents is an essential worker who is exposed to who-knows-what? Do you deny visitation for however long this goes on?
There are a lot of questions, and not a lot of answers. Without the option to go to court, there’s also a lot of opportunity for abuse, and for circular negotiations between attorneys that solve few problems – and generate extraordinary fees.
So, what can you do? How do you manage custody and visitation exchanges in the midst of the coronavirus?
RESPECT parent/child relationships.
Look, I get it. It’s scary. It’s normal to want to keep your kids close, especially in times of crisis. That’s especially true if you and your child’s father don’t have the best relationship, if you or your child are at-risk, or you can’t be sure whether they’re behaving like they should.
Its easy to say that visitation shouldn’t take place, and it’s entirely possible that it shouldn’t, especially if someone is at-risk.
But your child’s father has a right to a relationship with your child, too, and, if you’re trying to deny court ordered visitation, you need to make sure that you’re using Skype or FaceTime or Zoom to allow dad to be as present as possible, that you’re prepared to offer make up time later, and that you’re following ALL possible precautions at home.
Today, I heard about a case where a dad refused to let a child travel to visit mom for Spring break, which seems reasonable, until you find out that, in the meantime, he’s been taking the child to work with him! He does windows, so he goes into random people’s houses all the time. You know the saying – “what’s good for the goose” – and you’d do well to keep it in mind. Don’t insist on standards that then you aren’t willing to follow yourself.
Come up with alternatives to regularly scheduled visitation.
If you don’t want your kid to do X, suggest Y. Its not fair to just say no all the time without offering some kind of solution. You can offer digital visitation, visitation in your home, or make up visitation later. It’s not ideal, but nothing about this is exactly ideal, so think about it, and about what would make you more comfortable. Have a discussion, don’t issue mandates. A father who feels heard is a happier, more compliant father, and you’ll want his buy in to protect you, your children, and everyone else you come in contact with.
Don’t abuse the pandemic.
You didn’t get divorced because you love the guy, right? Of course not! He’s a jerk, probably. And you’d prefer to have the kids all the time, because you’re the mom and you can’t help it. And there’s a pandemic out there! It’s the stuff of nightmares.
But… There ARE people, moms and dads, who would manipulate the situation for their own benefit, or to gain the upper hand over the other parent. (Like Window Dad!) You have to be honest with yourself about where you fall on that spectrum, and make sure you don’t swing too far towards totalitarianism.
Eventually, the courts will reopen. Your child’s father may or may not file petitions. The judge may or may not change custody, depending on whether he or she believes you’ve abused the system. It WILL, though, take time, cost money you may or may not have, and raise your blood pressure points. Is it a risk worth taking? Only time will tell.
For more information or to talk to a licensed and experienced Virginia divorce and custody attorney about your options, give our office a call at 757-425-5200.