Coronavirus/COVID-19 Shelter in Place in CA: What Happens to My Kids and to Child Custody Agreements?

Please note: The information on this post is accurate as of TIME on March 20, 2020.

We will try to keep this post as updated as possible as events continue to unfold. But remember, if you have legal questions, it’s always best to get specific legal advice from a lawyer. LFLG is currently offering steeply discounted 30-minute legal consultations at a $99 flat rate, until April 1. Contact us here.

California’s statewide shelter in place directive has left many parents scrambling to understand their options and their legal rights when it comes to maintaining child custody and visitation schedules.  

We continue to monitor the situation closely, but there are currently no statewide legal directives on what’s allowed and what isn’t regarding custodial exchanges. Decisions on this are being made at the county level. As of the writing of this post at the timestamp above, Contra Costa and Alameda Counties have said that exchanges are allowed.

In general, the advice we are giving our clients is this: if you have a custody order, you can continue to follow it. Further, we also believe that “providing care to a family member” and following the “terms of a court order” are likely  an exclusion to shelter in place, thus allowing custody exchanges. In fact, failing to follow court orders can result in an order for contempt. 

The health of your child(ren) and of you and your ex are top priority right now. Talk, decide what’s best for the kids, make plans for the other parent to have extra time after this all blows over, and get a regular FaceTime schedule in place, stat.

What does “shelter in place” mean for parents who share custody – especially if we live a few hours away from each other?

At LFLG, we have families who live in Oakland that are not exchanging children with their ex in San Francisco because they are concerned about breaking the shelter in place directive.

If you live more than a few miles from your ex, it would be a good idea to decide together where your child(ren) should stay throughout the course of this directive. Driving a few miles in between should be fine; several miles or even hours apart may not be.

“If co-parents are exchanging children in compliance with court orders, they should be fine, although this is a novel situation and the guidelines are not very specific in this regard. If the parents are concerned about being stopped by law enforcement, it might be helpful to carry a copy of the court orders with them,” said LFLG attorney Ian Van Leer.  

If you can’t come to an agreement, we can help. Until April 1, book 30 minutes of legal coaching time for just $99. Or contact us about mediation services and we can work with you and your ex ONLINE to help you make decisions during these uncertain times.

If my ex won’t maintain our custodial arrangement, what legal options do I have to enforce court orders to make them let me see my child(ren)?

If your ex has a history of not following court orders regarding custodial agreements, they could be in trouble with the court if they fail to follow orders. But if one parent is not following orders because they fear for the safety of the child in the face of coronavirus, that might make for muddy legal waters.

We implore you to work out agreements together, to every extent that you can. This is a difficult situation, at an even more difficult time of year. Spring break is a notorious time for the parent that does not typically have custody to have their child for an extended period of time. So many parents look forward to spending this time with their kids. 

With court closures throughout the Bay Area, how can my ex and I amend our co-parenting agreement?

Some local courts are allowing emergency requests. Some courts have also established a drop box for emergency requests. What constitutes “emergency” is somewhat vague, but in general – things have to be pretty bad.

Let’s say you are seeking orders to modify your custodial agreement because everyone in your ex’s apartment building has tested positive for coronavirus and your ex wants to keep custody of your child in that apartment building – that would probably be considered an emergency. However, if your ex is just refusing access to your child and you’re upset about it, unfortunately, that would likely not qualify as an emergency.

There are no indications yet as to processing time of modification orders, even for emergency requests. If you need to make changes to your co-parenting agreement while the courts are closed, your best course of action is to work with a private judge or a mediator to keep things out of court. LFLG can help; request a quote here.  

Finally – and this should go without saying – but the best question to continue to ask yourself as you co-parent through this global pandemic is: What is best for my child(ren)? It’s so easy to get caught up in our own emotions and opinions, but please don’t lose sight of the one thing you and your ex still agree on: your love for your child. And – whether you like it or not – your child needs both of you. Especially right now. 

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