With the Coronavirus pandemic affecting all aspects of our daily living in an unprecedented time in our Country, the hot topic in North Carolina Family Law is: "Do I have to send my kids to their father (or mother) this weekend? It's a state of emergency!"
The answer, as with most legal questions: "It depends."
If there is no child custody order that has been entered by a judge, then there is likely no legal requirement that the children must be exchanged with the other parent.
However, if there is a child custody order in place, no attorney is permitted to advise you to violate the terms of that court order. Meaning, if the court order says the children go to their mother's this weekend, that's where they should go.
The next question most parents have is: "What if I don't follow the court order? What are the consequences of not sending the children to the other parent?"
The answer: The other parent can ask the Court to hold the parent who violated the order in contempt or court. Typically, the punishment is paying the other parent's attorney's fees. In rare occasions, one can be imprisoned for contempt of court. Another consequence to consider: a pattern of contempt of court is sometimes grounds for child custody modification. (But that is a topic for another day).
The parent asking for the contempt has the burden of proving the contempt. Meaning, he/she must prove the other parent WILLFULLY violated the court order. Sometimes, emergency circumstances can lead to violations that were NOT WILLFUL.
It's difficult to gauge whether any North Carolina judge would hold a parent in WILLFUL violation of a court order, AKA "Contempt of Court," due to the current State of Emergency surrounding the Coronavirus - again because we are in unprecedented times.
Each case will likely be individually assessed based on its unique facts and circumstances. In most cases, the child travels by car from one parent to another with minimal contacts with the outside world, which would generally be considered a safe exchange at this time.
If you have questions about your individual case, please contact an experienced family law attorney in your area for a consultation.**
**Note: Ms. Young is an experienced North Carolina Family Law Attorney in Northeastern North Carolina. If your case is in one of the following counties, please contact our office at (252) 621-1011, to schedule an appointment: Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Pasquotank, Perquimans.