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Can I Deny Custody and Visitation Due to Coronavirus Social Distancing Recommendations?

We have received a lot of inquiries from clients asking if they must still comply with custody and visitation orders in light of social distancing recommendations to fight the coronavirus. In these very difficult and uncertain times, we appreciate the enhanced concern many parents have with exchanging their children with another parent whose level of social distancing is unknown. We hope to be able to provide some amount of comfort and guidance regarding this issue. 

Notably, Virginia Governor Northam’s Executive Order Fifty-Five specifically authorizes travel required by court order to facilitate custody and visitation exchanges. This authorization removes any doubt that the Governor intends for all visitation exchanges to continue forward as normal. 

Of course, these are not normal times and everyone’s situation is different. It is impossible to provide specific advice as every situation needs to be evaluated on a case by case basis. As practicing attorneys, we cannot ethically tell you not to comply with an order of the Court. What we can say, is that we believe significant latitude will be given by the courts for parents that have a legitimate reason for withholding visitation. Much will depend on the exact wording of the relevant custody and visitation order. A parent with primary physical custody with a general “reasonable visitation” clause will have more leeway than an order with specific visitation terms. However, contemporaneously with any divergence from the Court’s order, you should file a motion to amend that order to permit a change in the visitation schedule. 

The easiest example would be if the other parent has tested positive for Covid-19. Another example would be if you are the primary parent and you are high risk, and the other parent is not demonstrating social distancing or indicated a refusal to take social distancing seriously after a discussion of the matter.

We are happy to help you with this analysis and any other family law questions you may have. Please call our office at (757) 486-7055 or email familylaw@inmanstrickler.com to set up a consultation today.