Impact of COVID-19 on Child Custody in Georgia

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every facet of our lives. The shelter-in-place orders in all states have required people to stay home throughout each day and many businesses to close until further notice. 

The outbreak has also caused disruptions for child custody and visitation arrangements. Whether a parent is a healthcare worker battling the coronavirus in the front lines or lives in another state and having the child fly alone is too risky, they may have to rethink or rework their current custody orders. 

However, current custody and parenting time orders remain in place. In Georgia, the provisions in the stay-at-home order do not overrule current orders. In other words, defying orders or denying visitation based on the current coronavirus outbreak can lead to contempt of court and sanctions. 

Regarding long-distance arrangements, however, Georgia courts will apply a “reasonable judgment standard” to determine whether to penalize parents who fail to comply with an order. The court will consider the child’s age and health, the distance traveled, travel-related costs, the stay-at-home orders of each parent’s state, and other circumstances specific to the case. If travel is not feasible, then parents may exercise reasonable judgment to make changes to an existing order. 

So, what should parents do to protect their children and adhere to current custody orders? If both parents have an amicable relationship and are willing to cooperate for the best interests of their kids, they may agree to a temporary modification of the custody and parenting time arrangements. 

Alternative solutions to child custody and visitation during COVID-19 include: 

  • Temporarily postpone in-person visits schedule make-up visits for later dates 

  • Use FaceTime or Zoom to communicate via video chat 

  • Sent text messages, cards, or letters 

Meditation via virtual chat is available to parents who do not initially agree on temporary custody arrangements. Even though the agreement isn’t an enforceable court order, the stipulations on the agreement may specify that signing it makes the contract binding. 

These mediated modifications are only temporary and designed to end once emergency orders are lifted or when things return relatively back to normal. The agreement may include a provision that establishes these modifications cannot be used as leverage in any future court proceeding. 

In the event the child is in imminent danger or living in conditions severely detrimental to his/her well-being, Georgia courts remain open for emergency situations, such as domestic violence and protective orders. 

If you are going through a child custody dispute in Gwinnett County during the COVID-19 pandemic, contact Daniels & Taylor, P.C. today at (770) 285-1673 and discuss your case with our experienced legal team. 

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