The Wake County Family Court has issued a memo on court-ordered custody exchanges of minor children and how the COVID-19 pandemic affects it. The memo is below, or you can download the full PDF here.
In light of Chief Justice Beasley’s recent announcement, the subsequent courtroom closures, and the new “stay at home” directives, we are receiving a multitude of questions from the public and attorneys regarding court-ordered custody exchanges of minor children.
Before calling the Family Court office to ask questions, please read the Statewide, Wake, and Durham county “stay at home” orders. Governor Cooper’s order remains in effect until April 30, 2020. It is attached. The local orders, to the extent they impose greater restrictions on the population will remain in effect. They can be found here:
Wake County Stay at Home: http://www.wakegov.com/covid19/Documents/FinalSignedSOE3- 26-20.pdf
Durham County Stay at Home: https://durhamnc.gov/DocumentCenter/View/30043/City-ofDurham-Mayor-Emergency-Dec-Second-Amdmt-3-25-20_FINAL
Traveling between residences for child custody or visitation is specifically listed as an essential activity in the Governor’s order. The Wake and Durham orders also contain provisions that could be construed as exempting custody exchanges from the “stay at home” restrictions. Please be careful to review a client’s custody order before giving any legal advice about exchanges. Additional circumstances may exist that would alter each party’s responsibilities as they relate to custody. For example, if the parties are ordered to exchange a child through Time Together, this facility has now suspended services due to the pandemic.
Some Family Law Advisory Councils, such as the Oregon Statewide Family Law Advisory Council, have issued guidelines for parents who share custodial time. The North Carolina Family Court Advisory Committee has not issued any guidelines to date, but some of the Oregon guidelines might be helpful for parents in North Carolina. You can review the Oregon guidelines here: https://www.oregonlive.com/coronavirus/2020/03/child-custody-arrangements-amidcoronavirus-statewide-family-law-panel-issues-guidance.html
Please keep in mind that neither the staff nor the Family Court Judges can give anyone legal advice. The most important thing you can do during this crisis is to encourage your clients to work together with their children’s best interest in mind, to have a “pandemic” plan in place in case someone gets sick or must be quarantined, and to mediate any disputes over custody exchanges such that court intervention is not required. Your counsel and advice to your domestic clients during this challenging time is of the upmost importance.
Judge Christine Walczyk