The COVID-19 pandemic has had unprecedented impacts on all aspects of life for millions of Americans, so it stands to reason that many issues will also touch upon personal and family matters. For co-parents raising a child in the midst of such a crisis, there are considerable challenges with custody, visitation, impacts upon parenting plans, school, and in many other areas. You know that you must put the child’s health and well-being first according to Virginia’s statute on the child’s best interests, but it can be difficult to navigate the uncharted territory presented by COVID-19.
In uncertain times, it is important to take action with respect to one factor that is within your control: Retaining a Virginia child custody and visitation attorney to guide you through the complicated laws and legal processes involved with co-parenting. You might also benefit from reviewing some answers to frequently asked questions by other individuals in your position.
What if we need to make significant changes to the parenting plan? There are numerous scenarios that may require you to modify child custody and visitation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as:
- Each parent’s work schedules;
- Whether one parent is at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 because of his or her work;
- A parent becomes infected with COVID-19; or,
- The child gets the disease.
Any of these hypotheticals and many others will likely require you to modify the parenting plan, even if just temporarily.
Do I need court approval to modify custody and visitation? You will need to involve the court when making changes, but the specifics depend upon how you intend to handle modification. If co-parents can agree to a new parenting plan, your respective attorneys can draft the paperwork, go to court for approval, and enter the appropriate order. The judge will review the agreement to ensure it complies with the child’s best interests standard, but you will probably not need to attend.
However, if you are unable to compromise, the court will need to conduct a hearing. The parent seeking the modification will need to show that a change in circumstances necessitates a different arrangement than the existing order on custody and visitation.
What if Virginia schooling options affect child custody and visitation? Based upon regulations established by the Virginia Department of Education and local officials, your child may be attending school 100 percent remotely, in-person, or a hybrid of the two. Co-parents will need to account for multiple factors when looking at the implications for custody and visitation, such as:
- Each parent’s work schedule;
- Whether one parent is better suited to support remote learning, because he or she works from home;
- The technology requirements for homeschooling; and,
- Transportation issues for in-person and hybrid instruction.
Will we need to adjust child support obligations? If there are significant changes to custody and visitation, you can expect that child support must also be modified. The current order was entered according to Virginia child support guidelines, which presume that the parent with residential custody will receive payments from the other. When a modification results in the paying parent having more time with the child, this support obligation is no longer appropriate.
What should we include when modifying a parenting plan? In short, you should address the same factors in the new plan that were covered in the previous arrangement for custody and visitation. Make sure to include routine visitation for weekdays and weekends, as well as special occasions. You might also incorporate a provision on right of first refusal, so that a parent who cannot take the child must offer caretaking duties to the other before going to a third party.
Do I need a lawyer to help with modifications? From the foregoing, you can see that retaining an attorney is critical for any changes due to COVID-19. Your lawyer can assist with negotiating a modification and entering the order in court if co-parents agree, but you will need representation if your case must go to a hearing.
A Virginia Child Custody and Visitation Lawyer Can Provide Personalized Information.
These answers to common questions about child custody may help you understand your rights and responsibilities as a co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic, but you probably have many others. You no doubt also want to know more about how the laws apply to your unique circumstances. Our team at Roop Xanttopoulos Babounakis PLLC is dedicated to helping parents like you, so please contact our office in Northern Virginia to set up a consultation with one of our attorneys. You can reach our firm at 703-442-0040 or via our website.
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