Custodial Exchanges Under the Safer at Home Order

As each one of us come to grips with a new (hopefully, temporary) way of life where social isolation and virtual connections are the norm, family law attorneys are quickly faced with the most unique and peculiar quandary: Can a physical custodial exchange between parents of children violate the March 19, 2020 “shelter in place” order in California?

Notwithstanding the fact that a “shelter in place” order in California seems unbelievable, this order creates a very grey area of what used to be an innocuous task in terms of health risks. So, is the physical custodial exchange of a dependent child an “essential activity” and thus permitted under Governor Gavin Newsom’s Executive Order of March 19, 2020?

The Grey Area

Unfortunately, the answer is unclear. Some family law experts in Los Angeles opine that it is best to consider the short-term implications rather than long term. That, the individual needs of a parent may come secondary to the health and safety of the public and the goal to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic.

Other family law experts say that parents must comply with court orders and custody agreements as much as possible despite what is currently occurring unless, of course, there is a concern about a parent’s suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus.

Adapting to a New Normal

In these unique social times, communication and transparency between co-parents will work best to ensure that the physical custody exchange may occur and so that the health risks to all parties, including the child, are mitigated as much as possible.

Though easier said than done, parents need to set aside their differences right now and communicate openly regarding the risks of exposure and spread. If there is a concern or exposure or transmission of the virus to another party that custodial exchange should not occur.

Rather, the parent that is unable to see the child should have the opportunity for generous virtual physical time and the parent with the child should make efforts to encourage the virtual connectivity between the parent and child.

The strength and speed of this pandemic forces us to reexamine and question so many things that we took for granted and never thought twice about as a public safety or health threat. In the homes of separated or divorced families, this pandemic only adds a further layer of complexity. This is because it now requires parents to be more solution focused, set aside their disputes and think on a more macro level as to what is best for the child, for themselves and their families, as well as their community as we learn to adapt.