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Essential Workers, Coronavirus, and Child Custody: FAQ


In the months since COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, hit the United States, just about every aspect of our lives has changed. Businesses, restaurants, sports venues, and schools have all shut down. Public and private schools are closed through the end of the academic year. Stay-at-home orders are in effect for the majority of New Yorkers, severely limiting the ability to work – with the exception of our valuable essential workers.

For essential workers who have or share custody of their children, the pandemic has ushered in a host of related issues. How do you keep your child healthy? Is it safe for them to move back and forth between homes when one parent is working on the front lines? Although this is a new and evolving situation, our attorneys are here to provide guidance and advice.

My child’s parent is an essential worker and I don’t want my child exposed to the virus. Can I refuse visitation?

Legally, you cannot unilaterally modify a custody agreement without prior court permission. It is rarely a good idea to violate a child custody order or to engage in self-help. Although Chief Judge DiFiore recently announced New York courts are slowly re-opening, the courts may not hear a custody issue unless it is deemed to be an emergency. Parents can file emergency custody petitions if they truly believe that the current custodial circumstances are a danger to a child’s health.

If you do feel your child’s immediate health or safety is at risk, consult with an attorney about your next steps. Please note, however, that a judge may not agree with a parent about what does or does not constitute a health threat during this time. We can provide advice if you are unsure.

I am an essential worker. Can my ex take away my child?

Not without a court order. Just like the rest of us, judges are confronting these issues for the first time, and little if any precedent exists for handling parenting time during a pandemic. In certain cases, judges may decide that it is simply too risky for a child to be with a parent who has been exposed to coronavirus, particularly if the child has pre-existing conditions that make them high-risk. However, judges may also feel compelled to adhere to previous agreements and court orders.

Our attorneys can help answer your specific questions and concerns as they apply to your family’s circumstances.

What if my child’s parent or a member of their household is diagnosed with coronavirus?

There is no general answer to this question. However, the first thing you should do is immediately contact the other parent to try and come to an agreement on what is best for your child’s health and safety. If you are absolutely unable to do this, you may need court intervention. Our Manhattan family law attorneys can assist you with this process.

Here at Berkman Bottger Newman & Schein, LLP, our experienced divorce attorneys and child custody lawyers can address all your questions and concerns during this difficult time. We provide knowledgeable guidance to clients in New York City, Westchester, and New Jersey. Schedule your consultation today by calling (212) 466-6015 or reaching out to us through our contact form.