Dealing with the Challenges of Court-Ordered Child Visitation in Maryland During the Current Global Pandemic

COVID-19, or novel coronavirus, has disrupted many things about almost everyone’s lives. Instability and uncertainty are hard enough on adults, but they are even harder for children. If your children are the subjects of a visitation order by a judge, the current state of things may make maintaining the regular schedule that the court ordered tricky. Like the many other unplanned things in life that may upset a visitation schedule, this pandemic demands many things from you. One of those demands is to work together in a collaborative way with your child’s other parent and act in the best interest of your children. Also, just as is true in any other major unexpected event, always obtain advice from a knowledgeable Maryland child visitation attorney before you take unilateral action that is not in compliance with your court orders.

Business Insider recently looked at this exact issue of visitation and COVID-19. Many of the suggestions and recommendations made within that piece are effective ones. For one thing, use your common sense. If your ex has primary physical custody of the kids and you’ve just tested positive for COVID-19, don’t let the children come to your home for their regularly scheduled visit.

On the other hand, if you are the children’s primary residential parent, you should also make sure the decisions you make are rational ones. If your ex’s current spouse has the virus, or your ex currently lives in Italy, then that is a reason to delay visitation. On the other hand, if your ex’s coworker’s spouse recently traveled from Ireland (but has no symptoms and self-quarantined for 14 days after returning home,) that alone probably isn’t a valid justification for denying a court-ordered visit.

One of the biggest things to keep in mind is the importance of partnering with your child’s other parent for the benefit of your child. For example, say your ex declined several visits because he was hospitalized for several weeks due to a car accident and, once he recovered, you and he worked together to modify the visitation schedule and allow him to have extra periods as “make-up” visits.

Just as that hypothetical couple handled that unexpected hospitalization event, you should work to deal with COVID-19-related issues similarly. If a parent has missed several visits because of an elevated exposure risk, because someone in one home is highly vulnerable (such as, say, the child’s 77-year-old grandmother with COPD,) or because one parent lived in a county that was on complete lockdown, then the two of you should strive to reach a mutually workable solution that allows the non-primary residential parent to make up those lost visits.

You possibly can still be found in contempt for violating the court-ordered schedule

When collaboration isn’t possible, be very wary of taking unilateral action that doesn’t follow what the judge ordered. If you unilaterally deny your child’s parent the visitation that the court ordered and your ex files a contempt petition, you will be called in front of the judge to explain your actions. If you didn’t have a basis for doing what you did that was sufficiently valid in the eyes of the judge, you will be found in contempt and could face very serious penalties. (And, as of mid-March, Maryland judges were still hearing and ruling upon contempt cases.)

If you have an issue that you and your children’s other parent cannot resolve by yourselves, it’s very important that you get knowledgeable legal advice before you act on your own in a way that isn’t consistent with the court’s orders. To get reliable advice when it comes to this and other kinds of visitation-related issues, call upon experienced Maryland child visitation attorney Anthony A. Fatemi, who has many years of experience and is here to provide you with the well-reasoned advice you need in these uncertain times. To learn more, contact us at 301-519-2801 or via our online form.

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