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Tennessee General Law Blog

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Is Child Custody Affected by the COVID-19 Outbreak?

The COVID-19 outbreak has affected the life of every parent in Tennessee. With the state’s stay-at-home order in effect and statewide school closures aimed at preventing the spread of coronavirus in schools, parents are struggling to find ways to entertain their children.

For many divorced parents in Tennessee, the coronavirus outbreak affected their ability to adhere to their child custody order. Meanwhile, non-custodial parents who were obliged to pay child support are left unable to make these payments because many were laid off or lost their income due to the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.

During these times of uncertainty, we will go over how the coronavirus outbreak may affect your child custody agreement in Tennessee. Does the state’s stay-at-home order allow you to withhold child visitation due to the fear of infection? Can separated parents disobey the custody orders during these unprecedented times?

Child Custody Amid Tennessee’s Stay-at-Home Order and COVID-19

On April 2, 2020, Tennessee’s stay-at-home order restricting “non-essential” travel went into effect. According to The Tennessean, the order, signed by Gov. Bill Lee, requires residents to stay home except for essential activities (buying groceries, purchasing medicine, going to a hospital, caring for a family member or friend, etc.).

What about divorced parents’ compliance with their regular child custody orders? Does the stay-at-home order prevent parents from traveling from one home to another to transport or visit your kids?

Any travel required by court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody order, is considered “essential” travel. Thus, the stay-at-home order does not give you a right to disobey your child custody order or withhold visitation unless you have legitimate and justifiable reasons to do so.

Otherwise, failing to comply with your custody order during the COVID-19 outbreak may result in contempt of court, which can lead to consequences such as fines, a modification to the custody agreement, and even imprisonment.

When Parents May be Able to Withhold Child Custody During the COVID-19 Outbreak

As mentioned earlier, Tennessee’s stay-at-home order or the COVID-19 outbreak itself does not directly impact child custody. Therefore, divorced and separated parents must continue adhering to their custody order unless there is a valid reason for not doing so, or they agree to adjust their regular arrangements.

If you think that you have a legitimate reason to withhold child custody during the coronavirus pandemic, discuss your options with a Manchester child custody attorney before actually deviating from the existing agreement.

Legitimate reasons for disobeying a child custody order may include:

In any of these circumstances, a judge would likely agree that withholding custody and restricting visits is in the child’s best interests.

If you and the other parent cannot come to an agreement during the COVID-19 outbreak, contact a child custody lawyer at Law Offices of Burch, Morrison, & Stewart. If necessary, our attorneys will help you file an emergency family law request. Call at (931) 954-1066 to discuss your case.

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