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Could essential workers lose custody while on the frontline?

The current coronavirus pandemic has changed our everyday lives at a fundamental level. We shop differently. We socialize differently. We do our best to reduce contact with those who are not in our households to help fight against the spread of this dangerous virus.

These changes have a unique impact on those who are raising children in two different households. Divorced parents are navigating uncharted territory and are doing their best to keep themselves and their children healthy during these difficult times.

What if the parent is an essential worker?

In some cases, parents may be concerned about the health of their child when switching households as is common in a joint custody arrangement. This is particularly true when one parent is an essential worker. Depending on the potential for exposure, a parent may consider requesting a change in custody orders.

In a recent case, a court entered an Emergency Order to change a custody arrangement. The change was the result of a request from the child's father. The reason for the request? The mother is an emergency room doctor fighting on the frontlines against the virus. Ultimately, the court stated that father's request was in the best interest of the child because the mother would be at an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19.

The father has stated he appreciates the sacrifice his ex-wife and other health care professionals are making during this pandemic. He clarified the change is limited to these temporary circumstances and was also ordered to ensure the mother receives additional custody time with her daughter in the future to make up for the time lost due to this temporary order.

Will this argument be successful for other families in similar situations?

The decision was based on a legal theory that is used in most cases that involve child custody issues, the best interest of the child, but the rule is not a blanket rule. It will not apply to everyone in similar situations. However, the rule does provide some guidance for those who are navigating similar circumstances.

For people facing these challenges or finding themselves defending their child custody arrangements because of COVID-19, an attorney can help protect your child custody and/or help you navigate these unusual circumstances and times we face.

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