On March 24, 2020, the State of Wisconsin issued an Emergency “Safer-at-Home” Order to combat the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus disease). The order prohibits all non-essential travel, with certain exceptions. Many divorced and separated parents in Wisconsin are wondering how this affects their custody and placement orders.
This is an unprecedented time and family lawyers throughout Wisconsin are grappling with difficult questions regarding child placement. This post aims to respond to some of the most common questions we are hearing from parents.
Question 1: Does the “Safer-at-Home” order mean that I cannot follow the court-ordered placement schedule?
No. The order does allow “essential travel,” which includes any travel necessary to comply with a court-ordered placement schedule. In general, all court orders regarding custody and placement remain in effect.
Question 2: Given public health concerns regarding COVID-19, should I stop following the court-ordered placement schedule?
This question must be considered and answered on a case-by-case basis. In most cases, if there are not specific or unique risk factors, parents should continue to follow the placement schedule and exchange their child between homes. However, circumstances vary with factors such as:
- Does the placement exchange require airfare or travel between states?
- Does the child (or anyone in either household) have underlying medical conditions that make them more susceptible to the virus?
- Have you, your child, or the other parent been exposed to anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19?
Additionally, the landscape that we are navigating changes each day. Review current recommendations from the CDC, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and your local government. If you have safety concerns for your child, consider discussing them with his or her pediatrician.
Question 3: What happens if my ex and I do not agree regarding whether to follow the placement schedule?
In the absence of any agreement to deviate from the schedule, the current placement order remains in effect. If one parent unilaterally and unreasonably decides not to follow the placement schedule, he or she may be found in contempt of court and subject to sanctions. The court will likely, however, consider whether legitimate safety concerns prevented the placement exchange from occurring.
Best Practices for Parents During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Be reasonable and flexible. Try to reach compromises. If your child is going to remain in one household for a greater period of time, the other parent should have make-up time when the COVID-19 threat has diminished. Do your best to communicate in good faith with your child’s other parent regarding how best to protect your families during this public health crisis.
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