The impact of Coronavirus / COVID-19 on visitation and custody
Can one party restrict visitation or custody of the other party based on the current coronavirus / COVID-19 outbreak?
Yes and no. Is there exposure or quarantine? If it is known that the house where the child is going had exposure or is quarantined, it can be an appropriate decision to stop visitation. Similarly, if the child has been exposed to coronavirus / COVID 19, it is appropriate to stop visitation. NOTE: Georgia’s courts are currently shut down, and no official opinion has been given on this, but this is based on seeing reasoning of courts over the author’s 16+ years practicing law in the court.
If there is no exposure and there is no quarantine, visitation should occur as usual. NOTE: It does not matter if one side thinks the other is less responsible or less equipped, there is an order for visitation, and that order needs to be carried out.
If visitation IS limited, what should the person do who is limiting visitation? Allow phone access, or even better video access, during this time. Assure the other side you plan on working with them for make-up visitation.
If you are the party that is being told you will not have visitation because of the pandemic, let the other side know that you understand if there has been exposure on either side, and discuss time for makeup visitation.
BE POLITE. Remember that every correspondence, email, letter, text, and potentially recorded message will be reviewed by a judge. Do you want to be the reasonable person or the unreasonable one? (Hint: reasonableness has a large amount to do with whether a Judge will award attorney’s fees to you for having to go to court.
Phone calls: It should be obvious, but there is no reason to restrict phone calls, Zoom/Skype meetings, or other electronic communication because of COVID 19 / coronavirus concerns.
If the court is closed, can I file a contempt action? Yes, and strategically, there are several reasons to do so. While a Judge will not be available immediately for a hearing, depending on the Judge, we may be able to get a conference call getting an order to restore or restrict visitation, based on the circumstances. By filing now, we are able to “get in line” to be hard sooner, rather than later (as the court system is getting a backlog of cases without active hearings). Also, the obvious result is often the other side will start complying when they realize the Court is involved.
If you have specific questions about how coronavirus / COVID 19 will impact your custody/visitation rights in the state of Georgia, or if you have any family law questions, our firm is currently offering phone consultations to protect safety during this outbreak. Simply call 770-863-8355 to schedule a free consultation with one of our family law attorneys.