Child Custody during COVID: does my child have to visit the other parent?

Parents everywhere are terrifically concerned about how to best protect their children while at the same time abiding my Court Orders that require them to send the child over to the other parent’s house. What can they do? What must they do? Our attorneys answered one concerned parent’s question presented to us on the Avvo.com platform.

COVID-19: Does my child have to be on a 14-Day Quarantine and Weekend Visitations Out-of-State? Can I withhold my child to protect her?

Question from Avvo.com user:

“I am not sure if an answer exists for this yet, but just in case: Our (minor) child permanently lives in Maryland with me; Father lives in another state (VA). Our current arrangement is that Child visits Father every other weekend, essentially every two weeks, as spelled out in our parenting agreement filed with the courts; we (the parents) have no real contact (a story for another time). Father has stated he will still be continuing with out-of-state visitations so, as of now, Child is scheduled to visit for Easter/Spring Break. I understand visitations are an exception to the stay-at-home orders; the question I have, though, is how might out-of-state visitations work with Maryland’s 14-day/two week quarantine for out-of-state travelers? Essentially, our child would leave our home in MD for Father’s visitation (a long weekend for Spring Break), and return to MD a few days later and immediately enter into a 14-day quarantine – – at the end of which time Child would then return to Father’s for another 2-3 day visit, and then return to MD to enter into quarantine again . . . and so on. I understand this is all uncharted territory – Just hoping for any guidance or insight.”

Answers from MLO/Mulinazzi Law Office (www.mulinazzi.com):

Attorney Michelle Dauksha  says:
The Court Order on the child’s schedule remains in effect, unless you and the other parent can come to a different agreement due to the unprecedented situation. Without an articulable and specific threat to your child, you must follow the Court Order. Maryland Law and your Court Order say it is important for your child to spend time with both parents but the law also and foremost wants your child to be safe. So what do you do?

MLO/Mulinazzi Law Office (www.mulinazzi.com) can help you using various dispute resolution tools and methods. I understand in your situation an agreement may not be possible if you and your child’s father do not communicate. If you have a mutual friend or a relative that has a good relationship with him, it might be beneficial to see if they’d be willing to “mediate” or help to see if an alternate schedule can be made temporarily, such as a 4 day weekend once per month to reduce the frequency of transmission and cross-contamination. You could also participate in a virtual mediation session with a trained mediator to help the two of you come to an arrangement that is in your child’s best interests during this difficult time. This is a uniquely different time. You need an attorney who will not incite you to break a Court Order. If you contact our Office (www.mulinazzi.com, 410-290-6270) we are trained to analyze the situation and help you come up with ideas and protocols to both protect your child and to protect your position in Court. Collectively, Mulinazzi Law Office divorce and custody attorneys have 100s of client reviews published on sites such as Avvo.com. We have four Maryland Super Lawyers on staff, and Attorney Mulinazzi is one of the Top 100 Attorneys in Maryland in any/all practice areas. We all are trained and certified by the Court to represent children and make recommendations to the Court.

Attorney Thomas Mulinazzi says:
I agree with Ms. Dauksha. Her advice about using a respect mutual friend to help you mediate or you could use a trained mediator is a very good idea. Mediation can be done with GoToMeeting or Zoom. Given your lack of communication with the other parent it may be best to hire a Retired Judge to mediate this situation since you may need the gravitas that a Judge brings to the mediation, Her Honor may give each and both of you a little push and a little perspective on how a Judge may see our situation. To resolve a dispute there are only two basic routes: mutual agreement or via a Court Order. Mediation can help you come to a mutual agreement – but if you cannot agree you must follow the Court Order or file the proper Motion with the Court to protect yourself.

From our discussions with the Court, the Judges are requiring all parents to be reasonable and put the best interests of the child first. In some very unique situations it may be best to withhold the child in order to keep them safe – but it is nearly impossible to make this objective decision on that when you are so emotional and concerned about your child. That is why it is critical to retain an experienced attorney with good judgment who can see the situation as a Judge would. MLO/Mulinazzi Law Office has attorney several attorneys who’ve worked for Judges and for the Courts. We are respected by Judges for our reasonable child-centered positions and our attorneys are appointed to represent children by Judges throughout Central Maryland. We can tell you that a 14 day quarantine is NOT required absent your child being exposed to someone with COVID. No Judge ever said that a child must be quarantined for 14 days just because the child went out of state – that is not a hard and fast rule. I would NOT advise my client to do that and I do not think I could defend that in Court. Traveling from Maryland to Virginia, while technically out-of-state, is a daily commute for 1,000s of people. We are separated by the Potomac River so a child visiting homes in Northern Virginia and Central Maryland is no different than a child traveling between homes in the Baltimore area and inside the Capital Beltway. What matters more is “how” both houses handle COVID and how each act keep the child and themselves safe.

Instead, of fighting over this and trying to establish which house is the safer alternative, can you agree on a shared procedure to decrease the chance of infecting both households. I know that this type of conversation is intrusive to what happens inside your own house but to protect your child you could both agree on some minimum safety procedures. For example, your child cannot play with neighborhood kids, social distancing when out of the house and wearing facemasks (not N-95 masks if you are not a health care worker), a lot of hand washing, disinfecting hard surfaces that are touched a lot, and changing clothes before the child enters your house from the last house and showering so as not to track in COVID. Doing so can significantly improve the safety of everyone. The CDC (www.cdc.gov) says these precautions save lives but these are just ideas, I am not an infectious disease expert, but you can both access guidelines on the internet. If one of you is being patently unsafe, or if the child has at-risk conditions then maybe you consider altering the arrangement and in extreme situations you may have to consider breaking the Court Order to protect your child. If you truly think that this is your situation then I strongly suggest that you consult an experienced attorney with reasonable judgment not a win-at-all costs litigator. Our attorneys at MLO/Mulinazzi Law Office (www.mulinazzi.com) has six experienced and award-winning custody attorneys who are respected by the Bench. We can assist you come up with a solution and/or protect yourself and the child in a way that comports with the Law and how the Judges want you to handle this horrible situation.

If you need help, we are here for you and we can assist. Call us at 410-290-6270, www.mulinazzi.com. Our Office is practicing socially distancing but there is always one attorney in our office which we disinfect each day. If you get a voicemail please leave a message because we will call you right back, we can to a video consultation, and if there is an emergent situation and the weather cooperates we can meet you in person – from ten feet away – and outside.

Good luck and please be safe. This too shall pass …