Families may face child custody challenges amidst coronavirus

WICOMICO CO., Md. – Child custody issues are presenting themselves amidst the pandemic as parents worry about the safety of their kids.

For example, there are cases in New Jersey and Florida where families who share custody are disputing that agreement. This has happened when one parent is a health care worker and the other parent cites that as an endangerment to their child because of possible COVID-19 exposure.

Wicomico County State’s Attorney Jamie Dykes says she hasn’t heard of any specific cases in the county but says it’s definitely possible during stressful and unfamiliar situations like this. “Most attorneys even practitioners who have been practicing for 50 years or more have never experienced what it is that we are experiencing now. I’ve never heard of courts closing in this fashion. These are challenging times for professions, for families.”

Salisbury Attorney Erin Michael McCormack says, “The chief judge in Maryland has issued guidelines noting that all custody or visitation schedules will remain in place and unchanged during this period. However, the judge further urged parents to be flexible and noted that some changes to current visitation schedules may be warranted. This leaves parents that don’t work well together frequently at odds.”

“To further complicate things, the courts are not scheduling hearings until June and if that gets extended no one really knows. Thus, if parents disagree about a contact schedule, all one can do is file a contempt and wait for the courts to reopen before any resolution can be determined. And there may be valid defenses to withholding visitation, but it will be made on a case by case basis and we won’t fully know until the courts reopen. In sum, this is uncharted territory for not just courts, but also parents.”

Experts say, if someone is facing a child custody concern they should contact an attorney. There’s also legal aid available through organizations like Maryland Legal Aid or Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service if you can’t afford an attorney.

Categories: Coronavirus, Local News, Maryland