Sharing Custody During Coronavirus Pandemic: When One Parent is Sick

Mar 20, 2020

As a family law attorney, I am getting more and more questions from parents who share custody and are struggling during this coronavirus pandemic. One of the dilemmas parents are facing is whether to send the child to a parent who is sick when they are sharing parenting time duties. 

If you're in this situation whether you're the sick parent or the healthy parent  I want you to go to the thing that I always tell you to go to and that is what is in the best interest of the children.   That is always the guiding principle when making decisions about your kids.   I'm confident that any judge in the nation and in the world at this point is going to tell you the same thing.

It Should Always Be In The Best Interest of The Child

What is unique about this coronavirus is that the symptoms are very similar to the symptoms that people experience when they're having seasonal allergies, like runny nose, scratchy throat, and sneezing.  It's impossible to tell the difference without testing.   Whether somebody's infected with the coronavirus or whether they just have your normal run-of-the-mill seasonal allergies and hay fever. This thing is important and this is too big of a deal to take its chances in my opinion.  I'm not giving you advice on whether to send the kids or don't send the kids to the other parent but what I am saying is you look out for the best interests of the kids and that means having an abundance of caution before sending your kids off or taking your kids in if somebody is sick.

Just like you wouldn't send them to have a sleepover at a little friend's house if that friend had flu symptoms or flu-like symptoms. Maybe this is not the best time to send them with somebody who might have those symptoms. 

Parents Are Using the Pandemic To Unfairly Distance Child From The Other Parent

I understand that there are people who are sharing custody who are taking advantage of this situation.   They are not returning children to the other parent.  This is spring break for a lot of people and they're not returning kids to the other parent because they are redefining what the court has ordered regarding Spring Break.  Because now spring breaks are being extended I know there are a lot of opportunists here and again I'm not telling you to not send the kids or to send the kids but what I'm saying is that both parents whatever side of this equation they're on a need to look at what's best for the kids.

I don't think any parent would ever forgive themselves if they infected the child and the child really died or suffered some really serious physical effects from infecting them.   

If You Are Sick Go To The Doctor

I know that our first responders and our doctors are working overtime right now and I don't know about the status of testing right now for the current coronavirus in the US or whether that's widely available.  It seems for any sick sick person that would be the first step which is to go to the doctor see what the doctor has to say.  Before you have a knee-jerk response and insist that the kids come with you especially if you're the sick parent.

We want to slow the spread of this virus so if you're insisting that kids come back to you and you're sick then maybe the first thing to do is go to the doctor to really get an assessment or a better focus on what it is that you have.

Ask For Guidance From The Family Courts 

If you're the parent who doesn't want to send the kids or you're the parent who feels like you're being denied the kids and you shouldn't be then maybe the next step is to go to the court and ask for guidance.  I don't know how many judges are going to hate me for saying that because already the system is overwhelmed and things move slowly you know the wheels of justice move very slowly.

Right now the system is on the verge of buckling because there is an influx of cases where parents don't know what to do and there's probably a lot of people filing in court.   A lot of courts have closed a lot of courts are canceling court dates or postponing court dates but the thing is if there's a court order in place and it's possible then you should try to get some sort of direction from your judge.

If You Self-Isolate Your Child The Court May or May Not Be Sympathetic

Ultimately, when it comes to a decision about sending a kid with the sick parents or not you have to make that call.   Just know that when you make a call there's going to be consequences and we don't know what those consequences are.  You could get a get out of jail card free right now because of the circumstance that we're in.   Or you may get a judge who has no tolerance.  I don't know that but it has to be your decision it can't be anybody else's.

If you have an attorney it can't be your attorney's decision.  You have to make it after receiving as much information as possible,  making all the calls without involving the other parents.  One parent can't be making all the calls unless of course, they have sole custody or sole decision making. 

1.  Always Do What is in The Best Interest of The Child

If you don't have the best interest checklist you can download it here.  It will give you a better idea of what the best interest of the child means. 

2.  If You Think You Are Sick Go to the Doctor

If there's a parent who's sick but they feel like they don't have the coronavirus so they feel like they're being unfairly denied their time with their children then go to the doctor.   See what the doctor has to say 

3.  Allow Your Child to Communicate With the Other Parent 

If two parents have agreed that children are not going to go with the sick parent right now then the parent who has the children really needs to make an effort to allow those children to communicate as much as possible with the parent who's not seeing them.  Especially if they're not exercising their regular regularly scheduled time.

There's a lot of crazy things happening in the world.   My own daughter is doing this virtual school where it's all online so there's Facetime, there's Skype so if a parent is not able to see their children because they're sick with whatever then parent who has the healthy children let them communicate you know as much as they can without interrupting.  Let that communication happen don't get it in the way don't get in the way of that so best interest of the kids. 

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