How to Handle Shared Custody When the Unexpected Strikes

Joint custody

With everything going on in the world today, it’s important to focus on your child’s well being, along with their health. The current outbreak of COVID 19 has raised many concerns, and as parents, you might be thinking about taking sole physical custody of your child for their well being. However, in times of crisis, you have to remember the best interests of your child, and the custody agreement you’ve arranged. Are you unsure what to do about your custody order when a crisis hits? What if your former spouse wants to change your shared custody agreement in light of a crisis? Whether it’s Corona-virus/COVID-19, or SARS, or a quarantine, here’s some tips to help!

Follow Court Orders

While this isn’t always practical – for example, perhaps with quarantine if one party has been potentially exposed, this is THE starting point. First, put your kids first. They NEED both parents if possible during a crisis, so now is not the time to withhold without good reason. Second, if you do withhold visitation, you run a serious risk of a Judge thinking you are trying to take advantage of the situation to the detriment of the children and it back-firing entirely! Just don’t do it.

Be Communicative

While it may be hard to communicate with the other parent, now is not a time to withhold crucial information or important decisions. If you have suspected or confirmed exposure, BE HONEST with the other parent and take any steps you can to protect your children. Practice good hygiene, follow CDC/local health guidelines, and communicate about any schedule or health changes that may come up as a result of government mandates that come down (or demands from your employers, etc.). And IF you have to deviate from the order, do so by agreement and if that makes one parent miss time, then proactively plan for how to let that parent make up time when the emergency concludes.

Be Kind

We really do find out what folks are made of when life gets messy. If a parent loses their job, can’t take their visitation, or can’t spend time with the children due to the emergency demands of their job, show kindness. Your children will already remember the traumatic experiences that come with a pandemic – help show them how each parent did their part.

But what to do if the other parent doesn’t play nice?

While it is ideal that each parent would stop the drama and such and play nice, the reality is that some parents WILL try to take advantage of any situation to deny the other parent visitation or put the other at a disadvantage, whether it’s in child support or custody. What should you do?

  • Do Your Part 

    • This means you follow the rules. Abide by the order to the maximum extent possible and do NOT let the other parent drag you down into the dirt. In the words of a famous philosopher, don’t argue with an idiot – they will drag you down and then beat you with experience. Treat others the way YOU want to be treated – do not reciprocate their bad behavior. Also, practice grace. If the other parent isn’t paying child support but lost their job due to temporary or long term job cuts (for example, because the government ordered all restaurants to close, hypothetically), show grace. It’s ok to expect them to make up the payment – when the situation resolves itself and they have a chance to get back on their feet. But you also don’t need to kick somebody while they are down – even if they may deserve it. Again, the golden rule applies. Treat others the way you want to be treated. 
  • Document, Document, Document

    • Because courts may be closed, filing for contempt may be difficult, if not outright impossible. You’ll need to save both your attempts to play nice and any evidence of the other parents’ misconduct. This may mean screenshots, saving a log of emails, or keeping a diary. Either way, log it as you go.
  • Communicate with the other parent and your attorney

    • While you may not be able to get into court, a “warning shot” letter by your attorney and/or a filing for contempt may put the parent on early notice that their behavior is unacceptable and needs to change. One, it shows a court that you tried to resolve it by bringing it to their attention early and two, it gives you an opportunity to work through counsel or the other parent to try and resolve it. In our current situation, courts are closed, but there ARE options – mediation (using technology to practice social distancing), arbitration (like a proceeding but with an attorney acting as the judge instead of an actual judge),  and just general negotiations. While these options won’t work for everybody, given the delay of how long it may take to get back into court, anything you can do to work it out in advance is great. If all else does indeed fail, you can show the judge just how hard you tried. And the end all be all is, you’ll be able to look in the mirror and know you did everything you can to do right by your children – and THAT is what is most important.

Resources that may help:


If you need help with custody questions and family law during the COVID19 pandemic or anytime during an emergency, trust the attorneys at Apple Payne Law, PLLC to guide you through.



Author Bio

Ronald D. Payne II
Ronald D. Payne II is the CEO and Managing Attorney of Apple Payne Law, a North Carolina law firm he founded in 2018. With more than 11 years of experience practicing law, he is dedicated to representing clients in a wide range of legal matters, including business law, estate planning, family law, probate, and traffic law.

Ronald received his Juris Doctor from the Wake Forest University School of Law and is a member of the North Carolina Bar Association. He has received numerous accolades for his work, including being awarded the 2020 Client’s Choice Award by Avvo and multiple Rising Star awards from Super Lawyers.

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