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Modifying Custodial Arrangements to Fit “Stay at Home”

Across Los Angeles and the San Gabriel Valley, families are stocking up on food and household goods, ordering delivery meals and largely abiding by the “Stay At Home” orders implemented by the Governor of the State of California, as well as local officials in the county and city of Los Angeles in response to the rapidly evolving Coronavirus epidemic. However, the decision to stay in or go outside is more complicated to those who are exercising split custody arrangements, supervised visitations or those who have custodial exchanges occurring at the children’s’ schools, which, by all reports have been shut down until at least May 2020.

Pursuant to “Stay at Home” orders, non-essential travel and gatherings are forbidden, and in some accounts, punishable by a misdemeanor citation and fine of $300. The question is one of whether visitation by a non-custodial parent, is “essential.” The answer is not clear. While the State of California deems “frequent and continuing contact” between both parents and a minor child to be of significant concern, policy must be considered secondary to the paramount issue of whether the health, safety and welfare of a minor child can be maintained in such a custodial arrangement. In short the question must be whether a minor child would unreasonably be exposed to risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus, if the visitation were to occur.

The Courts will likely look at these conflicts on a case by case basis, but at all times, erring on the side of caution. Meaning, that public visitations, supervised or otherwise, occurring in locations that would tend to have large crowds, such as malls, parks, restaurants or otherwise should likely be discontinued. As stated above, the health, safety and welfare of the minor child must be the top priority.

There is no consensus on the effects of the COVID-19 on children as a class, however, special heightened care should be made for children with respiratory conditions, including asthma, or compromised immune systems. In these cases, again, the modification should be made as such to reduce, to the extent possible, the risk of transmission, by limiting in-person social contact.

In many domestic violence restraining order cases, visitation by a non-custodial parent is regularly supervised by either a professional or non-professional monitor. In these cases, modification of the visitation to occur in the non-custodial parent’s home is an option, provided that the circumstances would deem such a location appropriate and if the professional monitor would be agreeable.

Custodial schedules which have an exchange location based on drop-off and pickup from the Minor Child’s school have likely seen some disruption due to the cessation of classes and closure of schools. In these cases, an appropriate modification would be to have exchanges occur at the home of one of the parents, so as to reduce the need to go to or remain in populated places.

Finally, if accommodations cannot be made to ensure that the in-person visitation does not pose an unreasonable risk of transmission or extraneous outside social contact, then video-visitations remain an acceptable alternative. Many platforms allow for real-time video conferencing on smartphones, and there is no risk of transmission or harm to the child through the use of this type of communication. It’s not ideal, but until the Stay at Home orders are lifted, parties should be willing to communicate and compromise in a fashion to ensure that the exercise of shared custody does not present an unreasonable risk of harm to the child.

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