Custody In the Midst of COVID—A Quick Guide

We have received many inquiries about what to do about custody concerns during the governmental shut-down of most activities. Here is what you need to know:

If you already have a custody ORDER in place, you must continue to do what it says unless

  • doing so would create a significant danger to the child or
  • it is now impossible to perform.

Court orders are enforceable by contempt powers, which include

  •  the ability of the court to jail you
  • ordering you to pay the other parent’s attorney’s fees incurred in enforcing the order
  • changing custody

If it’s an order, you need to comply unless you have a really, really compelling reason not to.

Not compelling in most instances:

  • The shut-down order limits my travel to essential activities–North Carolina’s order specifically provides that custody arrangements are allowed to continue.
  • It is harder to comply due to the shut-down order—no judge is going to see this as an acceptable reason to directly disobey a court order.
  • My child needs me there to complete in-home schooling—this will only be compelling if the other parent is not at home during the day and the child cannot timely complete the work during the other parent’s available waking hours, and still would not cover non-school times (just because the school day is typically most of the day does not mean that in-home school should take that long—a court will inquire into the exact routine and the reasons for that routine in evaluating this rationale for otherwise contemptuous behavior).

Probably compelling reasons to alter the court-ordered custody arrangements:

  • The other parent has a confirmed case of COVID or other serious illness, or symptoms of COVID—the custody should resume upon resolution of said symptoms or a negative test result.
  • The other parent cannot provide child care during a time of extended work hours (health care workers on double shifts, etc.)—that parent would still be entitled to exercise custody when they were not working in accord with the order.

If you do not have a court order, you are not in danger of contempt. We would, however, encourage you to consider the best interest of the child and to understand that a court may disagree with you in a subsequent custody hearing.

What do I do if my co-parent will not allow me to see my child while the courts are shut down?

  • Currently, North Carolina Courts are mostly closed for the conduct of hearings.
  • You can, however, still consult with an attorney and have them communicate with the other parent or their attorney to try and work something out.
  • You can still file custody paper work with the courts in order to get things going while waiting on the courts to reopen. This is important when you have to get service of process (you have to actually deliver a copy of the custody papers to them in a way acceptable to the court), which can sometimes take awhile.
  • The courts are hearing emergency custody matters. Emergencies are situations where there is an immediate threat of harm to the child or where the other parent is refusing to allow you to see your child or is threatening to remove them to another jurisdiction or to disappear with them. Currently, any such case had better be a true emergency or the motion is likely to be denied, and the courts are not able to hear extensive evidence and will simply enter temporary orders in an attempt to take care of the emergency situation until a full hearing can be held.


No matter your custody situation, if you want to know where you stand, the only real way to get there is to talk to an experienced family law attorney.


  • know the local judges and their tendencies of thinking about these situations,
  • are up to date on the status of the courts and when and how to get things done
  • have experience in how the courts will likely handle your situation
  • can typically give you a lot of valuable information in one consultation for a relatively low cost, which could save you thousands in attorney’s fees if you just proceed on your own and get it wrong (which is likely).

Talk with us RIGHT NOW!

Hartsoe & Associates offers instant consultations with an experienced family law attorney via video chat, phone, or same-day in-person appointments (if you call before 11:00 a.m.). Get the answers you need without the wait!

We charge $150/hr for these consultations—one of the lowest (if not the lowest) consultation fee in our area.

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