Navigating custody agreements at any time can be difficult and confusing. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted and complicated many aspects of our daily lives and brought to light many issues you may experience when sharing custody of your child. 

custody and health concerns

We often get questions from clients who are confused as to what their rights are regarding protecting their children when it comes to health and wellness concerns. Our family law team can provide answers to some of our common-received questions, and be sure to contact us if you have additional questions!

Question: We have a court order, but I know my ex isn’t being safe about COVID or other health issues. Can I withhold my kid?

It’s understandable for any parent to be concerned about the health and safety of their child, especially during a pandemic, and feeling like your child’s other parent is not taking the necessary precautions to keep your child safe and healthy can be frustrating. 

However, the state of North Carolina does not consider COVID-19 concerns alone to be a viable excuse to deny a parent access to their child. According to guidelines released in 2020 at the start of the pandemic by the North Carolina Family Court Advisory Commission, “the spread of COVID-19, in and of itself, is not a reason to deny parenting time” because parents are considered fit to make decisions about “the day-to-day aspects of parenting while the child(ren) are in their care” including social distancing, travel, masking, and handwashing.  

If you have any concerns regarding the precautions your child’s parent is or isn’t taking to keep them safe from, COVID, it is highly recommended that you try communicating this with them. Any changes to your parenting plan or visitation schedule also need to be discussed in detail and agreed upon by both parents before being enacted. 

If your court order prevents direct contact with your child’s other parent, it is important to maintain communication through other means, such as through your attorneys, in regards to the health and care of your child during the pandemic.

You are also encouraged to have a plan in place with your child’s other parent on how to proceed if someone- whether yourself, the other parent, your child, or someone in direct contact with you- gets sick with COVID-19 and needs to quarantine. 

If you have concerns about your child’s safety in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic, we are happy to review your parenting plan with you and discuss your options. 

Question: Which parent gets the final say on vaccines?

As a parent, you undoubtedly want to do anything you can to protect your child from harm and keep them in their best health. You may be considering a COVID-19 vaccine as a means to do this, but if you have the power to make that decision depends on your custody order. 

If one parent has court-established legal custody of the child, they hold the power to make decisions for the child regarding health care, education, religion, and their general wellbeing. In this case, the parent with legal custody would have the final say regarding whether your child gets vaccinated or not.

If you have a joint-custody agreement- where your child maintains a residence at each of the parents’ homes and spends a significant amount of time with each parent- then neither parent should have legal priority over the other when it comes to making decisions regarding your child. In situations where parents have joint custody, it’s always best to have a parenting agreement or court order in place that establishes one parent as having legal custody over decision-making for health-related matters. 

If no prior agreement is in place in situations with joint custody and the parents cannot come to an agreement regarding vaccinating the child, you will most likely have to go to court and allow a judge to rule for or against vaccination.

SeiferFlatow can guide you

Understanding child custody laws can be confusing, even in precedented times. If you’re trying to navigate custody through unprecedented events like a pandemic, you need an experienced family law attorney at your side. At SeiferFlatow we are closely monitoring all developments and changes in law due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and our family law team will guide you through them. Contact our office to schedule a consultation and get the guidance you need.