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New York Coronavirus and Visitation Lawyer

If you and your child’s other parent are co-parenting under a custody order from Family Court, you may have questions about how New York’s PAUSE order impacts visitation. In order to slow the spread of COVID-19, the March 20th stay-at-home order requires all nonessential businesses to close and for individuals to practice social distancing. The dilemma for parents is that they may feel that they are putting their child, themselves, and anyone else in their households at risk if visitation is permitted. On the other hand, if they do not allow visitation, they will have disobeyed an order of the court. This situation that New Yorkers are now facing is unprecedented. Not only has there not been this type of public health crisis in our lifetimes, there currently is no mechanism to seek guidance from the legal system as to how to proceed. If you are worried about the stay-at-home order and its impact on your custody arrangement, contact an experienced New York child custody lawyer at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates to discuss your legal options.

Visitation during PAUSE

When Family Court awards custody and visitation, it does so only after reviewing evidence of the fitness of each party to parent. While sometimes parents receive roughly equal access to the child, in many cases one parent has physical custody and the other parent has visitation. Visitation with the noncustodial parent will not be awarded if there is a showing that doing so would be detrimental to the child. Furthermore, because stability is the goal, custody orders are designed to be somewhat permanent. Generally, the court will only modify a custody arrangement if there has been a significant change in circumstances. The question for many families is whether the COVID-19 crisis and the mandated social distancing is a sufficient change in circumstances to suspend visitation with the noncustodial parent. As an experienced New York child custody lawyer will explain, the short answer is that it depends.

Modifying visitation

The rationale behind parents wanting to suspend visitation is that they do not want their children to get sick or to bring home the virus causing other members of the household to get sick, particularly older family members. Some parents feel that given the seriousness of the situation, they are justified in unilaterally suspending visitation without the agreement of the other parent and without the approval of the court.

While some may consider this step outrageous, it is not unprecedented. The primary concern of Family Court when making custody and visitation decisions is doing what is in the best interests of the child. Family Court will remove a child from a home, suspend visitation, or require supervised visitation if it feels that the child’s health and welfare is in jeopardy. Further, the court will ratify the decision of a parent to unilaterally stop visitation because otherwise the child would be put in harm’s way.

The mere existence of the pandemic and the PAUSE order in New York may not be sufficient to justify violating a court order and withholding visitation. If, however, someone in the noncustodial parent’s household has been diagnosed with COVID-19, is suspected of having it, or has been exposed to someone who has it, it would be reasonable to unilaterally suspend visitation. If the noncustodial parent or others in his or her household has chosen to not practice social distancing, you may have a legal justification for violating the court order.

Still, as an experienced child custody attorney serving New York will explain, by refusing visitation, you would have violated an order of the court--- an illegal act. Once the courts re-open, you are at risk for being cited for contempt. To prepare yourself for court, document everything related to your concerns about your child’s health and safety in order to show that you were justified in withholding visitation and that you were acting out of concern for the best interests of your child.

If there is no evidence of anyone in the noncustodial parent’s household being infected or exposed, and there is no reason to believe that anyone in the household is being careless, your rationale for withholding visitation may be deemed unreasonable. It would not be wise to take advantage of the stay-at-home order to withhold visitation for illegitimate reasons.

Child support and withholding visitation

If the custodial parent suspends visitation with or without your approval, that does not mean that you can suspend paying child support. Generally, your child support obligation does not stop simply because you no longer have access to your child. If the court determines that the custodial parent unreasonably blocked visitation, a possible remedy is that the court will adjust your future child support obligation. It is not likely that the court will adjust past due child support.

Contact the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates

The best option during this crisis is for parents to work together to create a visitation plan for the duration of the “lockdown.” While circumstances may make it dangerous for a noncustodial parent to physically see the child, technology can help maintain the parent-child relationship while we are under social distancing restrictions. If you have concerns about how social distancing will impact your custody arrangement, contact an experienced child custody attorney in New York at the Law Offices of Stephen Bilkis & Associates. With years of experience representing families in complex custody matters, we are here to help. Contact us at 800.696.9529 to schedule a free, no obligation consultation regarding your case. We represent clients in the following locations: Nassau County, Queens, Bronx, Brooklyn, Long Island, Manhattan, Staten Island, Suffolk County, and Westchester County.

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