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Tennessee General Law Blog

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How to Handle Child Custody During Stay-at-Home Orders

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting stay-at-home orders aimed at minimizing the spread of the virus have caused confusion among divorced parents. What is worse is that many parents began disobeying their child custody orders and failing to return their child to the other parent out of fear of contracting coronavirus.

However, withholding child visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic poses a risk of contempt for parents, unless there is a justifiable reason for keeping your child away from the other parent.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) About Child Custody During Stay-at-Home Orders

We are living in unprecedented times, which is why we decided to do a quick FAQ about navigating child custody in the coronavirus era.

How Does the Stay-at-Home Order Impact Child Custody?

Some divorced and separated parents refuse to let the other parent take the kids, claiming that they cannot transport the child because state or local authorities issued a stay-at-home order and told everyone to stay inside.

In reality, stay-at-home orders do not change the existing child custody orders that are in effect, which means parents are still expected to adhere to their order during the COVID-19 pandemic unless their agreement includes “emergency situations.”

If there is no such provision regarding emergencies in their agreement, parents must comply with their regular custody order.

Does Tennessee’s Stay-at-Home Order Change Custody or Parenting Time?

The stay-at-home order signed by Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee took effect on April 2, 2020. The order requires Tennesseans to stay at home except for essential activities. However, the order does not suspend parenting time or custody orders.

In fact, the executive order recognizes “travel by law, law enforcement, or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody order” as essential travel. Unless the court issued a new order suspending, modifying, or altering your current custody order, you are required to comply with your regular order.

Can You Refuse to Let the Other Parent Take Your Kids Out of Fear of COVID-19 Infection?

The fear of exposing your children to the coronavirus disease does not warrant withholding child custody. Unless there is an actual threat or you have a legitimate reason for keeping a child from the other parent (in that case, you should petition the court), you cannot refuse to let the other parent take your child.

Can You Withhold Child Visitation if the Other Parent Tests Positive for Coronavirus?

Yes, it would be reasonable to keep children with you (if you are the healthy parent) if the other parent tested positive for COVID-19 or exhibits any coronavirus symptoms. You should keep the children until the other parent – or someone else in their household – no longer poses a risk to the kids.

If this happens, it would be reasonable to ask a Manchester child custody attorney to create an agreement allowing the infected parent to make up the missed parenting time after they have successfully recovered or after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Can You Use Facetime, Skype, Zoom, or Other Apps to Interact with Your Children During the Pandemic?

Yes, courts encourage parents to use technologies such as Facetime, Skype, Zoom, and other video calls and instant messaging tools to interact with their kids, especially if the stay-at-home order or quarantine measures make it impossible to have in-person visitation.

Speak with our child custody attorneys at Law Offices of Burch, Morrison, & Stewart to discuss the impact of Tennessee’s stay-at-home order on your custody or visitation time. Call at (931) 954-1066 for a case review.

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