COVID-19 has changed the pace, productivity and pleasures of daily life here in Virginia. As a non-custodial parent, you may be wondering how Governor Northam’s March 12 emergency order affects your rights to parenting time, child visitation, and maintaining a healthy family relationship.
Stay at Home
In addition to the COVID-19 emergency order, Governor Northam followed up with his Executive Order 55 of March 30. This provided details on staying at home to lower the rate of infection of COVID-19, but it allowed for several legitimate reasons to leave your home. You can perform your essential job, buy food and beverages, and even volunteer with a charity. All are permissible reasons to leave the shelter and safety of your home and travel Virginia’s roads.
Also among the legal reasons: “Traveling required by court order or to facilitate child custody, visitation, or child care.”
You can go from your residence to your children’s home. But should you?
We use the word quarantine loosely, having so little experience with it in the 21st century. Medical quarantines were far more common in the 19th and 20th centuries, when health officials could literally compel a family to remain indoors to ride out the effects of influenza, hemorrhagic fevers, and other diseases.
Congress gave health inspectors the legal authority to quarantine citizens and visitors alike in 1944. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), already tasked with addressing America’s response to the greatest global pandemic of our lives, helpfully offers a timeline of quarantine and the legal muscle behind it. You can, for example, still be forced into quarantine for:
- Infectious tuberculosis
- Yellow fever
- Severe acute respiratory syndromes
COVID-19 fits squarely in the last category on our list. This means you and the mother of your children need to know specifically and accurately if she and your children are under quarantine — legally compelled to stay home and have no outside contact for at least 14 days — or if she and your children are simply staying at home in obedience to the Executive Order.
With COVID-19 tests still a scarcity in Virginia and around the country, your ex and your children probably have not been tested. If anyone showed signs of infection, medical professionals may have tested them, but at a minimum they would have recommended self-quarantine.
If, though, your children and their mother really are under medical quarantine, you cannot visit them. You can bring them food and beverages and leave the items on a doorstep, but you cannot have physical contact. This is definitely in the best interests of the child, even if it seems to violate the court order for child visitation.
This is a rare moment when every Virginian can perform a civic duty simply by sheltering in place. You do yourself, your ex, and your kids no good at all by violating a quarantine. The risk of spreading a contagion for which we have no cure is too high: the total deaths have outstripped losses from the Vietnam War.
If, on the other hand, your ex and your children are not quarantined but are merely staying at home, you can comply with the court order for visitation. Keep your circle of contacts very small:
- Your ex
- Your children
- A possible current partner
You and your ex must communicate honestly about contacts. Sure, you both can go to the grocery store wearing your masks and gloves, but if she is also going to her relatives’ homes, she is widening the circle and defeating the purpose of staying at home.
If you are both honest, and you know you can limit the circle of contacts to your two households, you have a legal right to continue seeing your children, enjoying their company, and teaching them to wash their hands properly. (Thanks, CDC!)
If your ex and your kids are not medically quarantined and she still refuses to let you see your children, you will have to wait until Virginia’s courts reopen to have the courts enforce the visitation order. This situation is common enough to have made the news. Document her behavior:
- Save texts, emails or voicemails
- Keep a log of your conversations
- Maintain a calendar so you know when and how often she refused your visit
Contact your family law attorney, so that when the courts reopen your case can be heard in a timely fashion. She may “get away with it” now, but eventually she will face legal backlash for violating the court order.
The Firm For Men defends the rights of Virginia’s men in all circumstances, including during a pandemic. Contact us today or telephone our offices. We are ready to protect you and the children you love. Even if we have to wear masks and gloves to do it.