January 16th, 2021


By:  Austin E. Williamson and Heather Rooney McBride

Not in most of our lifetimes have we seen an event or national emergency that has caused the amount of fear and uncertainty as the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic.    School closures, job loss, social distancing, and quarantine orders are prime examples of the pervasive and immediate effects caused by this epidemic.  As the number of COVID-19 cases increase, along with the growing mortality rates throughout Missouri and the United States, we are encouraged (if not mandated) to become more cautious and vigilant regarding our contact with others and the outside world.  Thus, it is no surprise that parents have questions and significant concerns regarding the exchange of parenting time while, at the same time, balancing the safety of everyone involved.  While our court system may be in uncharted waters with this pandemic, the following guidelines may help you navigate this crisis:

  1. Follow your Parenting Plan or Currently Ordered Visitation Schedule.

While the State of Missouri and local government authorities have issued various shelter-in-place and similar orders, there has been no order nullifying prior Court Orders, such as but not limited to custody and parenting time orders.  Parents are understandably concerned for the safety of their children during these times; however, those concerns do not outweigh the need for the other parent to have normal access to his or her child.  Even during, or maybe especially during, times of upheaval a child needs both parents and needs as much stability as possible.  Encouraging a child’s relationship with the other parent is not only a key factor for the Court in determining an ultimate custody decision, it provides a child the comfort of routine in a time where routine is anything but assured.  Conversely, a parent who denies the other parent access to a child may be not only causing his or her child emotional harm, he or she may possibly become subject to contempt or other court sanctions for his or her failure to follow the current Court Order.

  1. Use Common Sense, and Cooperate With Each Other.

Any good family law practitioner would agree that even a small bit of reason, compassion, and cooperation goes a long way in your custody case, and that truism is doubly important in today’s crisis.  As discussed above, if neither parent has been exposed to COVID-19, they should each have the parenting time as ordered. If, however, a parent has symptoms of COVID-19 (e.g., fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, tiredness, aches, runny nose, sore throat, etc.), or has been exposed to COVID-19, a parent’s first concern should be the safety of their child.  Unnecessarily exposing a child to this virus is irresponsible and, with the advances in virtual communication, a parent who is required to self-quarantine still has many options for meaningful contact (e.g. Zoom, Skype, Facetime, etc.).  Coordinating that contact, however, requires parents to communicate and be flexible with each other. The most important thing parents can do (now or ever) is focus less on what they want and more on what is best for their child; keeping the lines of communication open with the other parent is the best way to accomplish that goal.

  1. Keep Safe and Follow the Rules.

While extremely inconvenient for some and financially devastating for others, the CDC, County, and State guidelines are there for a purpose:  to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.  It is not surprising that parties in a divorce and/or custody matter do not typically share a mutual trust for each other; however, it takes trust to raise a child together, especially right now.  Both parties following the mandates on social distancing and shelter orders not only lessens the chance that they or a loved one will be exposed to COVID-19, it also assures both parents that the child’s safety is of the utmost concern to them both.

  1. Talk to a Lawyer.

If you have concerns regarding how to implement your parenting schedule in these times, how to accommodate another parent who may have symptoms or have been exposed to COVID-19, or if your parenting time is being denied by the other parent due to COVID-19 concerns, talk with a lawyer.  If you would like to speak with one of our experienced domestic attorneys about how COVID19 may affect your case or your options regarding any family law matter, please contact Rooney McBride & Smith, LLC at 417-708-9681 to schedule your free consultation.