I-TEAM: Parental rights while sharing custody during pandemic

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Monday, April 6, 2020
News 12 at 6 o'clock/NBC at 7

(Source: WRDW)

AUGUSTA, GA. (WRDW/WAGT) -- Some parents raising children in split households are facing face an unprecedented challenge due to COVID-19 -- sharing custody. Our I-TEAM breaks down parents' rights and what advice attorneys are giving parents.

Attorneys tell News 12 about how some parents are concerned their children are put at risk to exposure in the other homes. Others complain their exes are using the virus as a weapon to keep their children from them.

Lawyers are hearing from both sides right now, and they warn both could lead to loss of custody down the road.

One Aiken mother, who wished to remain anonymous, told News 12 she can’t risk not seeing her girls any longer.

“I am a mess I am frantic," the mother said. “Our court order is for I am supposed to have them every Tuesday and Wednesday.”

This is day 14 without her children. She says he sent her a text about how him and the girls were now in quarantine.

“He’s recognizing this virus as a way to keep them from me that’s what I think," she said. "He could keep them based on the governor’s recommendations but that wasn’t true because I called him the next day and he was at work.”

Later, she recieved an email from her ex on April 2:

"If you felt fine yesterday then, I propose we go 72 hrs from yesterday + 7 additional days before exchanging the girls…. This is taking the most conscientious approach for all family members involved… this would mean if all is good with you health-wise on April 12th, you would get the girls back."

April 12 would be Easter Sunday.

“I think there is going to be a lot of contempt actions a lot parties deny visitation and the kids as a weapon," Pj Campanara, a family lawyer in Columbia County said. “You have parents who are concerned about the way the other parent are exercising precautions, and so they don’t want to send their kids.”

Regardless, Gov. Kemp said his stay at home orders do not supersede child custody orders.

“As a parent, you got to make the decision: do I take my child out of the situation and possibly face consequences of the court because you are in contempt of court order? But are you in willful contempt? And when you get in front of the judge, is the judge going to say, 'I understand you were looking out for your child’s best interest?'" Campanara said.

“If they aren’t real safety issues in place and deny visitation I think they are going to suffer some consequences to the point lose custody," she added.

Right now, the courts are closed for COVID-19, only choosing to hear about emergency cases.

“I think desperate is the best word helpless and desperate," the Aiken mother said.

So parents must make it work, at least for the time being.

“Kids are getting caught in the middle," Campanara said. "I've told all my clients you got to think about the kids first you need to think about health and safety but kids first.”

One thing Campanara says - keep excellent documents right now.

If you are accused of putting your children at risk during the virus or using the virus as a tool to keep them away from your ex, emails and texts can prove otherwise.

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