The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on many couples’ custody agreements causing disruptions in schedules and co-parenting relationships. Maryland’s stay at home order specifically delineates that parents are required to follow whatever custody order they have for their minor children. However, many parents are withholding their children from the other parents, stating that they are worried about the risk of either themselves or their children contracting the virus.
If one parent is withholding a child against a court ordered custody agreement, the other parent has some immediate remedies. If there is a concern that the child is unsafe or in danger with the other parent a parent can file for emergency relief and an expedited hearing through the Circuit Court of whichever jurisdiction the case is in. Emergency relief, if granted, would provide temporary custody, usually both physical and legal, to the parent requesting it. Most Circuit Courts are hearing motions for emergency relief via phone or skype. Some are still holding in person hearings for emergency relief. If a parent believes that a child is in imminent danger they should file for a protective order on behalf of the child.
A parent should also file a Petition for Contempt against another parent who is withholding a child during this time. A Petition for Contempt will allow a court to give the parent missing out on time with their child make up time after the quarantine is over. Once a Petition for Contempt is filed, the court will issue a Show Cause Order against the parent withholding the child, for them to “show cause” as to why they are defying a court order. Those cases will not be heard until the court reopens but a court will tentatively schedule a date so that a parent can begin to prepare for a hearing.
These are difficult times. Parents are fearful that if they exchange their children in custodial agreements they will expose their children and ultimately themselves to Coronavirus. However, that fear needs to be weighed against the rights of each parent to have their children with them per a court order. As Maryland divorce attorney, I have prepared many different guidelines between parents to help them feel comfortable in exchanging their children. So, instead of withholding the children from the other parent, each parent follows the set of guidelines developed and created specifically for their case and circumstances. With those guidelines parents can avoid the expense and hassle of court and can eliminate the need for adverse interactions with the other parent.
Please call the Zirkin and Schmerling Law office for any further information at 410-753-4611 to speak with our experienced family law team.