The CORONAVIRUS and YOUR CUSTODY ARRANGEMENTS

Information from the Weaver, Bennett & Bland Family Law Team
For you, your family members and your friends

1. BE HEALTHY.

Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.

2. BE MINDFUL.

Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave the news on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate. 

3. BE COMPLIANT with court orders and custody agreements.

As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. Although schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school were still in session.  If the transfer can be accomplished without seriously increasing the risk of catching the virus comply with the Order or Agreement.

North Carolina has enacted a Stay at Home Order.  Note that some locales have enacted “Shelter in Place” or “Stay at Home” ordinances.  Mecklenburg Country has done so.  The stricter ordinance will prevail.  William Carroll, public information director of Mecklenburg County responded to an e-mail from me as follows: 

Travel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement, is considered essential.

For further guidance, please read the guidelines at https://www.mecknc.gov/news/Documents/COVID-19-Stay-at-Home-FAQ.pdf

Union County so far has not enacted such an ordinance; however, Chief Judge Tripp Helms is following the Mecklenburg guidelines and provided the following memo regarding the Mecklenburg Order:

Union County government officials are not currently considering a stay-at-home order on its own. The County will follow the lead of the State of North Carolina which has enacted its own Order.   

 “Essential Travel. For purposes of this Proclamation, Essential Travel includes travel for any of the following purposes. Individuals engaged in any Essential Travel must comply with all Social Distancing Requirements as defined in this Section.

29. Travel required by law enforcement or court order, including to transport children

pursuant to a custody agreement.”

4. BE CREATIVE.

At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums, and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.

5. BE TRANSPARENT.

Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly, both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.

6. BE GENEROUS.

Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take serious concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.

7. BE UNDERSTANDING.

There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.

Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.

Matters in Italics are the opinions and advice of William Whittaker following the statements of both Mecklenburg and Union County officials.

Best wishes for your continued good health and that of your loved ones

William G. Whittaker
Partner and Attorney
Weaver Bennett and Bland
196 N. Trade St.
Matthews NC 28105
704.844.1400
bwhittaker@wbbatty.com