Parents protect their children. All mammals — otters, ocelots, wombats, numbats — worry over and coddle and defend their offspring. Instinct makes a Virginia parent especially sensitive to risk during a pandemic. Intentional or not, some Virginia custodial parents are withholding visitation and parenting time. What risk does that bring, and what is a better way?
Let’s Focus on Science, not Sensationalism
Virginia’s Department of Health, absent a robust national response, has done its best to follow science and medicine in producing public guidelines. The COVID-19 illness springs from a novel coronavirus, one never before seen in humans before late 2019.
New developments every day — the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) said recently “the number and rate of cases in children in the United States have been steadily increasing from March to July 2020” — make some custodial parents leery of allowing parenting time and visitation with the non-custodial parent.
The VDH and CDC are not on the side of the parent who refuses to let the kids out of the house to see Dad (or to see Mom if Dad is the custodial parent). Nothing in science says self-quarantine and complete isolation are required.
Some authorities, such as Psychology Today, are concerned for the mental health of children deprived of normal family relationships.
Focus on Law, not Hyperbole
The Virginia court system is closed to the public, with only emergency cases heard under stringent health guidelines. Some parents may see that as an opportunity to ignore court orders and visitation schedules.
It is an opportunity, but not the one a custodial parent might think. It is an opportunity to bring the entire Virginia judicial system down on you for defying the court order.
Virginia Code § 18.2-49.1 says:
- Any person who knowingly, wrongfully and intentionally withholds a child from either of a child’s parents or other legal guardian in a clear and significant violation of a court order respecting the custody or visitation of such child, provided such child is withheld outside of the Commonwealth, is guilty of a Class 6 felony.
- Any person who knowingly, wrongfully and intentionally engages in conduct that constitutes a clear and significant violation of a court order respecting the custody or visitation of a child is guilty of a Class 3 misdemeanor upon conviction of a first offense. Any person who commits a second violation of this section within 12 months of a first conviction is guilty of a Class 2 misdemeanor, and any person who commits a third violation occurring within 24 months of the first conviction is guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
(Feel free to print, clip and save to gently proffer to the defiant custodial parent. Nope, we did not say wave it under her nose. We said “gently proffer.”)
Penalties for Denying Parenting Time in Virginia
A Class 6 felony is a serious charge. The custodial parent denying visitation in violation of a court order faces “a term of imprisonment of not less than one year nor more than five years, or in the discretion of the jury or the court trying the case without a jury, confinement in jail for not more than 12 months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both,” under § 18.2-10 of the Virginia Code.
Ooh! Parent in the pokey! The custodial parent will not be seeing the kids (or shielding them from COVID-19) from behind bars.
As to the misdemeanors, § 18.2-11 tells us:
- a) For Class 1 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than twelve months and a fine of not more than $2,500, either or both.
- (b) For Class 2 misdemeanors, confinement in jail for not more than six months and a fine of not more than $1,000, either or both.
- (c) For Class 3 misdemeanors, a fine of not more than $500.
Don’t Interfere with Parenting Schedules
With Virginia’s laws, punishments, and science arrayed against irrational choices, custodial parents would be wise to do nothing to interfere with court orders.
If you or your ex-wife have doubts about the safety of transferring the children between households, agree instead to meet in an open space, with masks and hand sanitizer for everyone.
The goal of parenting time is to maintain a normal relationship between parent and child. These are not normal times, but a three-year-old does not understand that.
You and your ex-wife need to work together to preserve visitation schedules, protect parental rights, and safeguard your children’s mental as well as physical health. To do otherwise is to defy the courts, defy science, and defy basic biology.
If you are facing a COVID-19 family law crisis, The Firm For Men can help. Contact us online or telephone our office at (757) 383-9184.