April 7, 2020
WHAT HAPPENS WITH CHILD CUSTODY AND VISITATION DURING THE ONGOING COVID-19 PANDEMIC?
This is a question that I have been asked several times over the past couple of weeks and the answer has not been very clear. Last night I consulted with a very reliable source that has been in contact with the Council of Superior Court Judges. I was advised that Custody and Visitation Orders are UNAFFECTED by COVID-19 or anything detailed in the Governor’s Executive Order(s) including the shelter-in-place provisions.
It is important to note, however, that long standing case law (Beckham v. O’Brien, 176 Ga. App. 518 (1985)) has supported the proposition that a parent MAY not be held in contempt if the denial of custodial or visitation rights was necessary to protect a child. In the case cited the mother refused to allow the father visitation with their child in violation of a visitation order after the father was arrested for child molestation.
It is my belief that the mere existence of the current pandemic does not authorize the denial of custodial or visitation rights in violation of a court order, but if allowing the contact would require the child to be exposed to a parent or others in his or her household that has tested positive for COVID-19, or would require the child to travel to unquestionably dangerous areas where the child might be exposed to the virus, then I believe the courts will quite possibly excuse the failure to abide by their orders.
I believe once the courts resume that each situation and the surrounding circumstances will be examined on a case-by-case basis. I would just discourage any parent from opportunistically denying the other parent his or her parenting time when there is no clear and present threat to the safety and welfare of a child.