The stay at home order issued by both the City of Los Angeles and later the State of California has stirred a lot of confusion among divorced parents who share custody of their children. Stay at home orders have required California residents to remain at home, except if they need to go out for essential needs such as for groceries, medication or health care appointments. People can’t go into work unless they are in certain essential jobs. The stay-home orders restrict travel for unapproved purposes. As a result, divorced parents didn’t know if they were allowed to travel to bring their children back and forth to the other parent during visitation schedules. There is confusion about whether the stay-at-home order trumped the custody order or whether the court order trumped the stay-at-home order.
Custody and visitation orders are not affected by stay at home orders or other order restricting movement issued by a governmental entity that arises from the COVID-19 pandemic. The stay at home order does not change the existing parent-child custody orders that may be in place. Just the fear of pandemic is not enough to warrant keeping a child from seeing the other parent. If there is an actual threat of harm to the child, the Los Angeles Superior Court is available for ex parte emergency RFO to address these issues. However, parents should attempt to work together first to come up with some kind of temporary agreement that works for both the parents and for the kids that accommodates the problems caused by the pandemic and modify temporarily the existing custody orders as a solution to the current environment. For example, if exercising the father’s alternate weekend visitation exposes the child to other members of the father’s new household, perhaps the parents can temporarily agree to a virtual visitations such as zoom video conferencing, face time, and other apps available that allows the father to see the child and interact the child without exposing the child to the risk of contagion. The Los Angeles Superior Court has been continuing most hearings except for emergency hearings. It would serve the parties best to co-parent and work out a temporary custody agreement which can be turned into a temporary court order.