What happens if custody arrangements are not honored during COVID-19?

By Jeffery M. Leving

The COVID-19 lockdown is over for now, but custodial parents are nevertheless using COVID-19 as an excuse not to comply with parenting time orders. I know because I've represented fathers who've been told by their children's mothers to stay away, with COVID given as the excuse.

So the question for parents who are no longer together and who have a court-ordered parenting time schedule is: Are these parents still required to share their children with the other parent, or should they keep the children home?

In most cases, courts are encouraging parents to abide by custody arrangements during the pandemic. Unfortunately, not all parents are following this advice. Possible arguments parents may use to avoid honoring these agreements include:

Argument No. 1: Honoring the agreement would violate the executive order

The stay-home order has expired, but even when the executive order was in effect, the language of the order did not support this argument. The order from the Illinois governor specifically stated that residents should comply with court orders, including parenting time arrangements. The order allowed for parents to travel to bring children to the other parent as this action falls within the definition of "essential travel."

Argument No. 2: The other parent was exposed to the virus

Parents are wise to reach out to the child's pediatrician if they are concerned that the other parent or another member of the household was exposed to or currently has the coronavirus. A medical expert can provide advice on what is best for the health of the child. However, using this concern as an excuse to violate a court-ordered parenting plan is not wise. Serious consequences can come with a violation. It may be reasonable to request the parent self-quarantine if exposed to the virus. In the meantime, parents could continue to connect with their children via FaceTime, Skype or Zoom.

Argument No. 3: The parenting plan requires meeting in public areas

A parent may argue that they cannot meet to exchange the child to honor the agreement as the parenting plan requires the parents to meet in a public location for the exchange. This argument is unlikely to justify violating the order. Instead, parents could meet in an outdoor location for the exchange, reducing the risk of exposure to the virus while still honoring the agreement.

These scenarios are some examples of possible arguments parents may encounter when attempting to enforce their custody agreement. Each situation will be different for each family. As such, it is wise to keep in communication with your attorney to help better ensure your rights are protected throughout conversations with the other parent.

The attorneys at my firm, The Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd. in Chicago, represent parents (and sometimes grandparents) who recognize the essential role that fathers play in the upbringing of children, even if the parents are divorcing, divorced or otherwise separated. We fight to assure fathers have their rightful place in their children's lives in Cook County, across Illinois, in the Midwest and nationally.

Jeffery M. Leving is founder and president of the Law Offices of Jeffery M. Leving Ltd.,and is an advocate for the rights of fathers. He is the author of Fathers' Rights, Divorce Wars and How to be a Good Divorced Dad, the latter of which was endorsed by President Obama and by Cardinal Francis E. George, then the archbishop of Chicago. To learn more about Leving and his latest court victories, follow him on Twitter and Facebook.el