Many people are rightfully concerned about the health of their families during the current Coronavirus outbreak. Dealing with a difficult co-parent can only add to the stress your family is facing. Some of the questions I receive daily concern how to navigate custody agreements during this unprecedented time.
Guidelines to Follow
The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts have issued guidelines on how to share custody during the current situation. The most important step you can take right now is to make sure that you and your kids are healthy. Follow all CDC and your health provider directives for proper care. Be mindful that everyone is under a lot of stress including your children. Follow any court order as best you can. Be creative and flexible in your interactions with your co-parent. Supervision centers have closed and your exchange locations may need to change. Be transparent with your co-parent. Let them know if you have any symptoms. Be generous with your time. If there is a new schedule that prevents your co-parent from seeing your child, they are a nurse in an ICU for example, allow them to make up the lost time. Be understanding of the co-parent. They do not have all of the answers either. Remember we are all trying to workout what to do in these unprecedented times.
My Co-Parent is Unreasonable
If your co-parent is unreasonable and inflexible, there are several factors that need to be evaluated to determine whether you can deny access to your children in Maryland.
No Custody Order in Place
The first consideration, is whether their is currently a custody order in place. If the answer is no, there is nothing stopping either parent from denying visitation with the other. This is why it is imperative to contact an experienced family law attorney for advice. Without an order, both parents share equal control over the child and you may be denied access to your child.
Custody Order in Place
Generally, it is a basic premise that you must follow court orders. If you disobey a court’s order, you can be found in contempt which can result in your incarceration. You will be given an opportunity to purge any contempt before incarceration, but we do not advise that you follow this route.
What Constitutes an Inability to Comply With a Custody Order?
The inability to comply with an order is a defense to contempt. We are not there yet, but a ‘shelter in place order’ issued by the Governor, preventing you from leaving your home would constitute an inability to comply with a custody order. As of now, if the children’s co-parent lives down the street and is healthy, it is unlikely that a court would find that there is an inability to comply with the order without other aggravating factors being present. If you need to travel vast distances or have an exchange point that is required to be in a public place, you may have an inability to comply with the custody order.
What if Your Co-Parent is Acting in an Unsafe Manner?
Coronavirus is a serious problem. Young children are at risk and have become dangerously ill when exposed. If your co-parent is not taking the situation seriously, you are right to be concerned. The negligent actions of your co-parent can be considered when contemplating denying them access. In fact, if your child’s health or welfare is endangered because of the actions of your co-parent, you can file for an emergency order to stop visitation completely. The courts are still open for such emergency actions and are available to protect your child. Our Office handles these matters on a routine basis and we are here to assist you. Even if you do not desire the intervention of the courts, an attorney can help negotiate an acceptable agreement with an uncooperative co-parent. An agreement can be reached and a consent order can be filed with the courts.
If you feel that your child is endangered by your co-parrent, either because of the necessity of exchange or through that parent’s actions, it is imperative that you act now and contact an attorney that can further explain your rights. Each individual situation is unique and there is no one size fits all solution. Do not hesitate to give our Office a call for a free consultation. We are experienced attorneys who handle these matters routinely in all courts throughout Maryland. We are trained and ready to help you immediately.
W. Timothy Sutton