Today, Alabama’s Governor issued an order for Alabamians to “Shelter in Place.” The question everyone has is, “what exactly does this mean?”
Almost immediately after the breaking news of the shelter in place hit the internet and news, I began to get questions from clients about how this affects their custody exchanges. Does the shelter in place mean the child stays at the parent’s home they are in as of 5:00 pm Saturday, April 4? Do we still exchange?
The Governor’s Order dated April 3, 2020 orders Alabamians to stay at his or her place of residence with a few exceptions:
1(h): To travel as required by law. A person may leave his or her place of residence to travel as required by . . . court order, including the transportation
of children required by a custody agreement.”
This makes it clear that you can travel when (1) required by a court order and (2) to transport children pursuant to a custody agreement. If you have a court order in regards to custody and visitation, you still follow that order, so you still exchange your children for custody and/or visitation.
If you don’t have a court order as to custody and visitation, Paragraph 1(h) lists “custody agreement” not “custody order”. So, do you have an agreement as to custody exchanges? If so, follow that agreement.
What if I’m a grandparent who has the child in lieu of his or her parent who is my child? Paragraph 1(i) states:
To see family members: A person may leave his or her place of residence to visit the residence of other persons who are related to him or her.
Under this provision, you, as a grandparent, would not be prohibited from transporting your grandchildren or for your grandchildren to be transported to you for a visit. So, you are not prohibited from custody and visitation exchanges, either.
I’ve also had questions about what to do when the other parent refuses to keep the children at home even though the children have asthma or other underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to the virus.
The short answer is: you have to follow a court order. Failure to follow a court order subjects you to contempt of court.
If you sincerely believe the children will be best staying with you during the Shelter in Place, work with the other parent, express your concerns, try to reach an agreement on how to proceed. If you agree to the children remaining with one parent, figure out how they can stay in touch via Facetime, Skype, or other technology and agree on “make-up” time once the pandemic is over and the shelter in place is lifted.
However, if you have reasonable and valid concerns regarding the other parent’s refusal to protect your child or children during this time, talk to an attorney immediately about your concerns. You have to keep your children safe. An attorney with experience in custody matters can give you advice on how to proceed or what steps to take to help protect your children.
Caution: We are living in an exceptional time. Lawyers and judges are figuring out on a daily basis how to respond to this pandemic and the extraordinary circumstances our clients are facing. What may be permissible today may be prohibited tomorrow. This is a very fluid situation.
If there was ever a time to be on your best behavior as a parent and co-parent effectively – the time is now. Your child is looking to you for guidance on how to respond to this pandemic. They are scared. You are scared. However, you must act in the best interest of the children.
May the peace of God be with you and carry you through this time.
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