Judge, attorney say stay-at-home order doesn’t override custody agreement; contact attorney for help

How to navigate a custody agreement during the COVID-19 pandemic

BATON ROUGE, La. (WAFB) - Plain and simple, parents sharing custody of their kids do not have the right to decide if they don’t want to follow the rules due to the stay-at-home order issued by the governor.

“You still have to abide by your custody schedule unless there is some kind of extraordinary circumstance,” said family law attorney, Yazan Rantisi. “Like if someone gets sick and there is an increased risk. Even then though, judges have been hesitant to just allow people to make decisions on their own. That’s why it’s important to communicate.”

However, Rantisi says if both parents agree to put a hold on visits during this pandemic, that’s fine because both parties are in agreement.

“In any kind of custody dispute, it’s always best that the parents work it out,” he said. “That means you can come up with your solution because it’s not one size fits all.”

But what about the parent who says they feel like taking their child to another household isn’t safe? What if the other parent does not agree with that decision? Call an attorney, the legal experts say.

Each parent’s work schedule and level of exposure could be considered when Rantisi’s team is trying to come up with a reasonable solution.

“But what is reasonable?” Rantisi asked. “It’s different for everybody. Almost every single case is case by case.”

Maybe that means forgoing a weekend visit until this summer or considering a virtual visit in the meantime. The Honorable Judge Pamela Baker with the Family Court of East Baton Rouge Parish says her office has been talking to parents about tweaking things for the short-term.

“Visitation that’s missed is more than likely going to be made up some way or another in the future,” Judge Baker said.

The judge emphasizes that one size does not necessarily fit all.

"There’s no cookie cutter answer to this. Parents are going to be filing motions for contempt because they’re violating the order and in some cases, that’s going to be a hard call too,” Judge Baker explained. “What’s deliberate and willful? I’m telling you to exchange your kids, but you’re fearful for the safety of your child. It will be a hard call.”

Changes to the custody agreement must be documented. Nothing too formal, she says, just make sure it’s in writing.

“Even if you document it on a text message, if you do a meeting, virtual chat with your former spouse or the other parent, record it, because unfortunately, people come into court and they don’t tell the truth," the judge said.

Judge Baker says the court closure order will make exceptions for emergency custody cases and issues of domestic violence. If you don’t have an attorney, Judge Baker is encouraging parents to her office at 225-389-4676 for more help navigating these custody issues.

Experts say parents should put aside their differences for the benefit of the kids because an agreement now could be the beginning of understanding in the future.

“It’s in the child’s best interest to see both parents, even when it’s difficult,” Rantisi said.

Click here to report a typo.

Copyright 2020 WAFB. All rights reserved.