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Shared Custody & Essential Workers During a Pandemic 

— June 15, 2020

First responders and essential workers are the backbone of the US economy. They give so much to serve the greater general population.

Shared custody is a complicated matter to begin with. This complication is compounded exponentially as a result of the ongoing pandemic. With much of the country furloughed, laid off or simply out of work countless routine schedules have changed drastically from this time last year. Additionally what if your former spouse works on the front lines and is considered “high risk”. What precedent takes effect if you and your child are concerned about your health and safety.

During these times several individuals have had to shift their lives. From offices, schools, warehouses and ones of normalcy to that of one indoors. So how does a single parent with children and a shared custody arrangement help mitigate exposure to COVID-19, especially if that individual is very high risk, high risk, or an essential worker?

I’m Worried About the Health & Safety of Myself and Children – What Can I Do?

In several instances there are individuals who work from home and are employed in a “safer” work environment than their former, or soon to be, spouse. If you have legitimate fears and concerns about the health of you and your dependents, it is possible to be granted an emergency child custody order. An experienced child custody attorney can help navigate this quickly evolving legal landscape, and request a temporary child custody order through the necessary channels.

In the state of California, there are certain requirements that need to be adhered to for a temporary child custody order. Please understand that there are several aspects of this that can have lingering psychological impacts on former spouses and dependents, so ensure that you have put ample thought into this idea. If, after careful consideration, you think it is the best path for protection, then a family law attorney can help navigate individuals interested in this option.

Woman and child touching faces, image by Bruno Nascimento, via
Woman and child touching faces, image by Bruno Nascimento, via

Emergency Temporary Restraining Orders & COVID-19

Recently, a doctor in New Jersey was presented with papers that granted an emergency temporary custody order to her former spouse. The non-front line ex-spouse was able to obtain paperwork that laid out the new parenting plan. Are former spouses and exes thus able to request a temporary full custody order as a result of a concern for their own, or child’s safety?

As difficult as this may be for front line workers, some judges have indeed granted former spouses with full child custody on a temporary basis. As a result, first responders need to isolate as much as possible from former spouses and their offspring. This isolation can have negative short and long-term impacts on relationships between former spouses and parental-child relationships can be strained.

Ensure Open Lines of Communication

One of the most important things right now is to ensure an open and honest line of communication. If a former spouse is considered high-risk, ask what levels of protection they are taking. How can these front line workers impose safer working conditions, and how frequently are these essential workers being tested?

Since the beginning of the pandemic, many high-risk workers have been self-isolating within the same household or property to help mitigate exposure to loved ones. Many of these essential workers risk their lives to help others in their professional sectors and then choose to isolate while in their private domicile.

What are Your Options?

Per the CDC, individuals who have been exposed to COVID-19 should impose a  self-mandated quarantine and follow outlined protocol. But how does this work if you are exposed to others on a daily basis and have shared custody of a child? Are there health exceptions that exist to limit the exposure of COVID-19 to others or are you legally obligated to uphold the court mandated orders?

At the end of the day we are all in this together, so it is advisable to make a temporary custody decision on the greatest good of the group. If you believe that a temporary custody order is in the best interest and safety of your group it may be best to request a temporary emergency order.  Essential workers should not be denied parental rights, but in these uncertain times it has become an entirely realistic possibility for some.

As a result of this evolving legal issue, a limited amount of case law, precedent, and guidance for this issue is available, so the best approach might be subjective based on individual needs and local public policy. Different jurisdictions have opined different information. Some courts are open, while others are still shuttered further complicating the matter from one city, county, or state to the next.

First responders and essential workers are the backbone of the US economy. They give so much to serve the greater general population. Unfortunately, as a result of their interactions with the general population, some essential workers may be required to isolate from their children in highly stressful times.

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