Child Custody During the Pandemic
Frequently Asked Questions about Child Custody Orders During COVID-19
By Carolyn Woodruff, North Carolina Family Law Specialist
Our children are precious! We are all in a state of emergency. The things you do for your children NOW are imperative. A Motion to Modify your existing Child Custody Order may be an excellent strategic move, particularly if you feel the other parent is putting your children at risk for COVID-19. The facts of your unique case will determine whether the court might view that your children are actually at risk for COVID-19 at the other parent’s home. For example, a severely asthmatic child has more risk than a child with no known health issues. The history of compliance with court orders before this pandemic will also play into how a judge might view your case. Interstate travel, known exposure, and type of work a parent does (health care worker, for example) may play into the intricate facts of your case.
Can I violate a court order? Can I withhold visitation? Do I need to modify custody? All of these questions can be addressed with pros and cons in a virtual consultation with a lawyer at Woodruff Family Law Group. Call 336-272-9122 and follow the prompts for “initial consults” to make a virtual appointment.
The courts are closed, so there will not be a fast solution. But, acting now will position your case to your best advantage.
Does a “Shelter in Place” Order by the Governor or the County mean I cannot exchange my children as required by a court-ordered visitation?
Answer: There is an exception in every order we have seen that exempts court-ordered visitation exchanges from the “Shelter in Place” order. Therefore, you should continue exchanging the children at the time and location required by the order.
Can I get emergency custody of my children until the pandemic is over? The other parent is acting irresponsibly, continuing to have playdates, and traveling to his friend’s house.
Answer: Emergency Custody has very specific requirements under North Carolina law. There are three situations for emergency custody: (1) substantial risk of sexual abuse; (2) substantial risk of bodily injury to a child; or (3) risk that the child might be abducted or removed from the jurisdiction of North Carolina. The courts are closed for most cases until after April 17, but emergency custody is an exception.
Should a parent limit play dates with other children?
Answer: Yes, please use some form of video chat, such as Zoom or Facetime, for your children to play with friends. It is best practice to keep your children in the home and your backyard. Exercise common sense.
My child custody case is in court. Can I complete the mediation process?
Answer: Each county has a different answer. See www.woodrufflawfirm.com/updates-covid-19 for more information.
Guilford County has issued special instructions.
1. You should complete the Online Orientation. Contact the Child Custody Mediation Administration at 336-412-7815 or Michele.G.McRae@nccourts.org for more information. IF BOTH YOU AND THE OTHER PARENT COMPLETE THE ONLINE PROGRAM, YOU WILL AVOID UNNECESSARY DELAY WHEN THE PANDEMIC PRECAUTIONS ARE LIFTED. Note that no other course will be allowed as a substitute.
2. Required Parent Education Class. The class that is available online is Two Families Now, and you can register at www.twofamiliesnow.com.
3. Mediation: Teleconference/videoconference is available, and these appointments can be made at the Custody Mediation Office (336-412-7815).
Randolph County has an online option for Custody Mediation Orientation. The process takes approximately 45 minutes. Go to www.nccourts.gov/programs/child-custody-and-visitation-mediation-program.
Davidson County has custody mediation orientation and mediation sessions online using ZOOM.
Counties are updating this information as remote possibilities are available.