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Tennessee General Law Blog

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Could Exposure to COVID-19 Affect Child Custody?

Many front-line and essential workers who provide critical services during the coronavirus crisis are divorced parents who share custody and parenting time with their former spouse. Those people on the front lines of the battle against the pandemic are doctors, physicians, nurses, and other healthcare providers who are exposed to COVID-19 risks on their job.

Can your daily exposure to coronavirus affect child custody? Can your ex-spouse withhold child visitation or deny contact with your children simply because you are a front-line worker?

Can You Lose Child Custody if You are a Front-Line Worker?

At this point, the answer is rather vague even though Tennessee courts have argued that parenting time and physical custody should not be affected by school closures, stay-at-home orders, or other executive orders. Also, many front-line workers are confused by rulings from other courts, notably a controversial decision by a Florida judge who had taken away a doctor’s custody rights during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nurses, doctors, medical professionals, and other emergency workers fear losing child custody during these unprecedented times. While some former spouses of essential workers are willing to compromise to ensure that parents who are on the front lines can see their kids during the pandemic, others refuse to let their ex-spouses have access to their children due to COVID-19 exposure risks.

Some courts have issued administrative orders to address the issue of child custody during the coronavirus pandemic. According to a report by The New York Times, the state district court in Davidson County, Tennessee, ruled that the “primary residential parent” should take custody of their child within four hours of the state’s shelter-in-place order and retain sole custody until the executive order is lifted.

ER Doctor Loses Custody Rights During the Pandemic

A controversial ruling by a judge in Florida fueled the fears of front-line workers who share custody with their former spouse, especially those whose ex-spouse is refusing to let them see their children. As reported by CNN, an ER doctor from Miami lost custody of her 4-year-old daughter due to the risk of COVID-19 exposure.

The ruling encouraged even more parents to withhold child visitation simply because their ex-spouse is a first responder or another essential worker who may be exposed to coronavirus on the job.

The lack of guidance and clear administrative orders prompted many divorced front-line workers to seek emergency child custody orders in their local courts. However, given that the court system has been paralyzed during the coronavirus crisis, getting any response from a court can be problematic, which is why it is advised to get legal help from family law attorneys.

The best solution would be to work out a temporary parenting plan during these unprecedented times to avoid unnecessary disputes and conflicts. For example, a parent who works on the front lines of the pandemic could be given unlimited virtual access to their child to communicate via phone, FaceTime, or other means under the condition that they will be able to make up their missed days after the coronavirus crisis ends.

Contact our Manchester child custody attorneys at the Law Offices of Burch, Morrison, & Stewart to help you work out a temporary parenting plan if you are concerned about your child’s potential exposure to COVID-19 or are the front-line worker whose ex-spouse is withholding child visitation. Call at (931) 954-1066 for a case evaluation.

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