Custody in the Time of Corona
- March 18th, 2020
As of the writing of this article, March 18, 2020, 7,038 cases of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, have been reported in the United States, with more and more cases being confirmed daily. The novelty of this outbreak, and the subsequent response to it, has led to confusion and uncertainty regarding the daily lives of each and every person in this State and in this country as a whole. Schools, restaurants, bars, offices, and even courts across the State are either closing or are limitedly open as a daily reminder to the current situation as governments in South Carolina, and the United States as a whole, analyze how best to stem the spread of infection. For those residents with current matters in the Family Court, the closures and restrictions can be particularly worrisome and confusing.
It is important to note, at the outset, that everyone, both young and old, should practice proper hygiene and, as a rule of thumb, should look at the guidelines set out on the Center for Disease Control’s website regarding protecting oneself and one’s family from the coronavirus. Be sure to wash your hands using plenty of soap and hot water, disinfect surfaces, and practice social distancing as a way to limit your possible exposure to the virus and those who may be infected. According to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, there are 33 confirmed cases in South Carolina, including one death. All of this is said, not to scare you, but to inform you of the seriousness of this novel situation with the hope that you and your loved ones might be safe and, aside from its effects on your daily routines, untouched by this outbreak.
Yesterday, the Supreme Court of South Carolina issued an Order stating that “Family Courts shall only hear emergency matters including, but not limited to, DSS Emergency Protective Custody, Juvenile Detentions, Bench Warrants, and Emergency Petitions for Orders of Protection from Domestic Abuse.” So, then, what should be done if you don’t fall into one of those categories? That is what I hope to guide you through with this article. To be sure, nothing in this article has come from the Family Court directly, and each individual’s situation is unique, but the following can hopefully provide some guidance in this uncertain time.
The first thing one needs to do when considering their Family Court case is to ask oneself whether there is a Temporary Order in place. If so, the Temporary Order must be followed, as best as possible, so that you do not put yourself in a position where you are open to a motion for contempt for not following the Order. This, however, brings up what is likely to be the biggest question: what should I do about custody and visitation if there is a quarantine? It is likely that, if you’re reading this, you currently have one or more children at home due to school or daycare being closed. While the simple answer is to follow what the Temporary Order says, given the situation, the safety and health of your children should be of the utmost concern. Keep the phrase “best interest of the child/children” in the front of your mind in all things relating to your child/children.
The “best interest of the child/children” is the standard by which all custody, visitation, and support issues are determined in the Family Court, so it should be your starting point as well. It would be wise to, if possible, come to a temporary agreement or understanding between yourself and your child/children’s other parent regarding how to handle custody and visitation during this time. Be understanding and forgiving in these times; remember, this is for your children’s health and well-being. It is understandable that each person’s situation is different. Some of you have a good relationship with your child/children’s other parent, while others of you do not. In many cases, it will be necessary for you to file a legal action in order to protect the best interest of your child/children. Remember that these are times in which only the most serious and emergent cases are likely to be heard and such action may indeed be warranted in your case. However, also remember that there are many other steps your attorney can take, short of filing an emergency action, that can help to protect you and your child/children. Be safe and try to be understanding of your co-parent in these difficult times. Remember, “the best interest of the child” should not just be the standard used by the Family Court; it should be your standard as well. To that end, the best interest of your child/children is what is best for their personal health and safety in this time.
David Schlosser is an attorney with The Miller Law Firm, P.A. and a former assistant solicitor with the Sixth Circuit Solicitor’s Office in Lancaster, Chester, and Fairfield Counties.
Melissa Miller is an attorney with The Miller Law Firm, P.A. concentrating in the areas of Family Law and Personal Injury.To reach David or Melissa, call The Miller Law Firm, P.A. at 864-527-0413 or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.