Over the last three days, Alabama has averaged 1,000 new cases of COVID-19 per day. In the last two weeks, the state of Alabama has reported nearly 10,000 cases of coronavirus and 887 deaths from the virus. Some experts have wondered whether or not Alabama needs to tighten its restrictions again to prevent more deaths. Meanwhile, co-parents of minor children are facing their own set of challenges. Courts are still not fully operational and many co-parents have questions regarding child custody issues.
Alabama’s Three Stages Of Reopening
In order to better understand child custody issues related to COVID-19, it is important to understand the three stages of reopening. Alabama is following a three-stage reopening process — red, green, and yellow. The state of Alabama began reopening the economy on April 30. The first stage of reopening was called the red Stay-at-Home phase. The red stage expired on April 30 at 5 p.m. The second stage is the yellow stage, called “Safer at Home.” The Safer at Home stage expires on July 3, as of right now.
The final stage is the green stage and is called the “Safer Apart” stage. This stage is the eventual goal. The Office of the Governor states that it will provide more updates on what the Safer Apart stage will require and look like. Governor Ivey has amended the yellow Safer at Home Stage to end on July 3rd.
Child Custody Issues During the Yellow Phase
We are currently still in the yellow Safer at the Home stage. It is possible that Governor Ivey will extend the Safer at the Home stage again for a longer period of time. During the Safer at the Home stage, individuals are encouraged to stay home and follow good sanitation practices. Many public places are open with required social distancing and sanitation rules. The following issues are serious and can seriously negatively affect co-parenting:
- The disruption of a regular routine
- Disagreements on whether a child should travel on a plane or bus for visitation
- Changes in the work schedules of one or both parents
- Disagreements over how much exposure kids should have in public places
- Scheduling challenges due to schools and daycare centers being closed
- Disputes over whether children should be made to wear masks in public
Some In-Person Court Hearings Are Still Suspended
Every Alabama court district has issued its own rules when it comes to in-person hearings. Some courts are allowing in-person hearings on a case-by-case basis. Many courts are allowing remote hearings through the telephone. Unfortunately, many parents who need to file child custody motions will face delays as courts are not working at full capacity.
If you are experiencing a child custody issue, it is important to seek legal help as soon as possible. Your attorney can review your options with you and help you decide how to proceed. The following issues are some of the most common challenges co-parents are facing when it comes to child custody issues in Alabama.
Can A Coparent Deny Visitation Or Parenting Time Due To Coronavirus?
Many of our clients have wondered what remedies they have when a co-parent denies visitation or parenting time due to coronavirus. Being in the yellow stage of the coronavirus shutdowns is not a free pass for withholding a child in violation of a visitation order. If your co-parent is withholding your child in violation of a court order, you can file a Petition for Contempt in family court. The court will then schedule a hearing and a judge will determine if the withholding parent willfully and intentionally violated the court’s visitation order or parenting time orders.
When a judge determines that a parent willfully and intentionally violated the visitation order or parenting time order issued during the coronavirus pandemic, the judge can hold the violating parent in contempt of court. The judge could punish the parent by ordering him or her to pay the other parent’s attorney fees and costs. In serious cases, the judge has the power to incarcerate the parent to force compliance with the order.
Seeking An Emergency Motion To Suspend Parenting Time During The Yellow Phase
During the yellow phase, many parents have serious concerns about not wanting to send their child for scheduled visitation with another parent. Perhaps the other parent is not following social distancing guidelines at all and is exposing the child unnecessarily to the coronavirus.
If your co-parent is placing your child in imminent danger of serious harm, you can request a judge to grant an emergency order that suspends parenting time because of the coronavirus pandemic. While judges do not often grant these types of emergency orders, in the right circumstances, they will do so.
Options Besides Filing An Emergency Order
Alabama family court judges balance the concerns of a parent for their child’s safety with the right of the other co-parent to visit with his or her child. As a co-parent, you might have concerns about sending your child to visit your co-parent. But your concerns might not be serious enough to file an Emergency Petition with the court.
In this type of situation, reaching out and negotiating with the other co-parent can help you minimize possible risks of exposure to children. Parents who are facing dilemmas caused by coronavirus can try to work it out among themselves. For example, some parents might agree that a child cannot go on an airplane to spend time with his or her other parent. In exchange, the parent might receive additional parenting time with the child after the resolution of the coronavirus outbreak.
Can I Deviate From Custody Orders Because Of Covid?
While it is good practice for co-parents to follow custody orders to the letter, the court can allow changes that have been jointly agreed by both parents temporarily due to Covid. Deviations from existing custody orders should be communicated with the other parent. If an agreement isn’t reached and one parent thinks their child is a risk of suffering Covid related harm, an emergency hearing can be held depending on the unique facts or circumstances.
However, the current standards for an emergency order are high. You need a seasoned divorce attorney to convince the judge that following existing orders would have posed a serious risk to your child. Find the best divorce or child custody attorney in Alabama if you can’t agree with the other parent and think you have sufficient grounds for deviating from existing custody orders due to Covid.
The court encourages co-parenting since parents are the best-placed individuals to decide what’s best for the family. In fact, agreements made by parents on child custody don’t need ratification by court order or formal written agreements. However, if both parents aren’t in agreement, the court can intervene
I Don’t Have A Job Because Of Covid-19. Can I Stop Paying Child Support?
You can’t just decide on your own to stop paying child support because of Covid-19 or any other reason. You must seek relief through a motion or petition to modify child support obligations. Alabama allows requests for a retroactive child support modification, so it is advisable to file immediately you feel the need to do so.
My Visitation Orders Dictate That I Visit My Child In A Public Place. What Should I Do If There Is A Lockdown?
As mentioned above, child custody and related orders can be modified as long as both parties are in agreement. To plan for visitation in a lockdown situation, contact the other parent and attempt to find an alternative visitation site that is acceptable to both of you and doesn’t break Covid-19 lockdown rules.
If you can’t agree with your EX, contact a divorce attorney to advise you on the next cause of action. You may be forced to file a pleading to initiate further negotiations in court.
I’m I Obligated To Obey Visitation Orders If The Other Parent (Non-Custodial) Has Tested Positive?
Parents are supposed to obey child custody laws. However, a child’s best interests are of utmost concern. Parents are advised to work out unique situations like Covid’s impact on child custody and visitation rights. If parents can’t reach an understanding, they should involve their lawyers.
In typical situations, parents are required to observe child custody orders to the letter. However, courts understand the effects of Covid-19 on child custody and visitation rights. Unless parents fail to reach an understanding, a court can intervene. You should talk to an attorney if you can’t agree on child custody issues during Covid phases or related issues.
Contact An Experienced Huntsville Child Custody Lawyer Today
If you are experiencing a child custody issue and you need legal help, Alabama Family Law Group is here. Contact our lawyer as soon as possible to schedule your initial consultation with one of our experienced lawyers. We have remained open throughout the COVID-19 shutdowns. We are available to set up a telephonic interview with you if you do not feel comfortable coming into the law firm. Call Alabama Family Law Group at 256-804-0084 today or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation.