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Covid and Court Ordered Custodial Exchanges

First, consider that those courts that have weighed in on this problem, have stated that custodial exchanges are essential government functions. Your children, for the most part, have an idea about what is going on and share in uncertainty that you’re feeling as well.

We are, no doubt, living in uncertain times, but that does not mean that everything stops. A disturbing trend that has developed recently is one parent refusing to exchange children per a valid court order.

First, few things can be more cruel to both children and parents than using Covid as an excuse to refuse custodial exchanges, absent an actual active case of coronavirus in the home or where the children may have been exposed and are exhibiting symptoms. Despite that reality, some parents are using the Covid-19 outbreak as an excuse to violate court orders, which require them to exchange children.

Unfortunately, most courts have temporarily closed in an attempt to help slow the progression of the virus, leaving parents with few real or immediate options if this happens.

First, consider that those courts that have weighed in on this problem, have stated that custodial exchanges are essential government functions. Your children, for the most part, have an idea about what is going on and share in uncertainty that you’re feeling as well. After all, they can’t even go to school or play with their friends, so they know that something very unusual is going on. Generally, children are far more perceptive than we often give them credit for. Part of the stress children feel is a genuine fear that the other parent is safe and a longing to see them to make sure. As such, refusing a custodial exchange is just going to add to that fear and stress your children out further.

Second, consider the other parent and how you would feel if the shoe was on the other foot? These are times where we should be going out of our way to try and make sure everyone is as healthy as possible, both mentally and physically, and withholding children is not the way to go about it.

According to the scientific paper, The Epidemiological Characteristics of an Outbreak of 2019 Novel Coronavirus Diseases (COVID-19) – China, 2020, there were no cases of death in children under 10 and 0.2% in children 10-19. As such, according to the scientific research currently available, there is an extremely low possibility that your children will be infected, especially if both parents are healthy and follow the published health care guidelines.

Now, we don’t know exactly how the court is going to handle these problems when they re-open, but we can make some educated guesses. First, refusing to follow a valid court order is punishable by contempt, which can be punishable by a fine, a jail sentence, or both.

The court may also consider the offending parent to be a risk to the children and order supervised visitation, or they might order a change in custody to the aggrieved parent given the guidance found in Family Code §3040, which states, in part “In making an order granting custody to either parent, the court shall consider, among other factors, which parent is more likely to allow the child frequent and continuing contact with the noncustodial parent”.

In conclusion, consider this… If you don’t exchange your child, as ordered, as you prepared for the time, expense and potential consequences that may come your way? Be smart, follow the law and most importantly, consider your children and their emotional health and well-being.

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