Child Custody & Visitation During COVID-19 In Tennessee
Tennessee’s schools are closed for the remainder of the academic school year. Additionally, the courts are closed to in-person hearings with a few exceptions. Many businesses remain closed and everyone is struggling so far in 2020.
Families are also trying to adjust their schedules as many people and children are home during the pandemic.
How do school closures affect parenting schedules?
The Administrative Office of the Courts, overseen by the Tennessee Supreme Court offers some guidance – please read below:
Custody & Child Visitation
In general, attorneys and parents are encouraged to follow the school-year calendar for custody on school and non-school days even if schools are closed.
Visitation Schedules – parents are encouraged to follow the school-year calendar for child custody on school and non-school days (even if schools are closed).
Exchange of children – the exchange of children is an exemption to the state’s Stay At Home order issued by the Governor. Parents should continue to exchange children on schedule unless other arrangements are agreed-upon or approved by a court of competent jurisdiction.
Emergency Proceedings – these proceedings related to emergency child custody or visitation orders may be conducted in-person. However, these hearings should be held via video conference whenever possible. If conducted in-person, social distancing measures should be strictly enforced.
Blanket Standing Orders – the Court discourages the use of these orders in child custody cases because of the need to address these matters individually or case-by-case.
Surrender of Parental Rights – parents who wish to voluntarily surrender their parental rights can do so in-person.
Visitation for children in DCS custody – like any parent-child visitation matter, each court with jurisdiction over visitation has the discretion to determine whether or how visitation should continue. As always, Judges must determine whether suspension or restriction of visitation involving children in DCS custody and / or foster care is appropriate and necessary. No DCS policy or DCS preference overrides a judicial order.
Should parents follow court orders and child exchanges during this pandemic?
A parent who violates an existing exchange order may claim immediate risk of harm to the child as a defense. However, the general risk of community infection may not be enough to avoid being held in contempt.
Please read this article from the NY TIMES HERE – New Battle for Those on Coronavirus Front Lines: Child Custody – Doctors, firefighters and others who risk exposure to Covid-19 are being taken to court by ex-spouses who want to keep them away from their children.
If there is an imminent threat to a child’s well-being – you must take action.
How Navigate Child Custody During the Pandemic?
Across the country, divorced parents are grappling with difficult situations as regular routines have been disrupted. An obstacle for divorced parents during the pandemic is that most state and county family courts are closed, or open for emergencies involving abuse or endangerment. This means that even if parents want to modify pre-existing custody agreement they cannot right now.
If you believe that sending your child to your ex’s home could pose a risk to your child’s health, you can ask your ex to agree to a temporary change to custody, and propose other alternatives like postponing in-person visits for a period of time, scheduling daily phone calls, texts or FaceTime / Zoom video calls, etc.
The question is – what should you do when both parents cannot agree?
You should contact a local family law lawyer or mediator for advice – most family law lawyers are still working and available by phone or video meeting services.
If your child’s health is truly at risk, you may want to ask a judge to intervene. You or your attorney may be able to obtain an emergency temporary child custody order from your local family court. Please keep in mind that there are not universal laws for family law to follow so disputes during this time of COVID-19 are unchartered water for both divorced parents as well as family law lawyers.
If you have additional questions or need guidance, please contact the Tennessee divorce attorneys at McKellar & Easter for help!