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What practical approaches are recommended or possible to minimize covid-19 exposure during child visitation, weekend visit, with the non-custodial parent? Are there medical or legal guidelines on this topic? (I live in Georgia, in the USA.)

  • What does a "normal" visitation look like? How old of a child? – Joe Apr 3 at 18:44
  • @Joe A weekend visit for a 9 year old. No other children in either household. – Zayde in NY Apr 3 at 19:54
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First: we are not able to answer legal questions, so don't take this as really addressing the legal side of things. Look up those details in your area specifically or ask a lawyer for that.

In general, visitation is likely still possible currently. See this advice from Nolo:

How do Social Distancing Rules Affect Custody Arrangements?

The social distancing and shelter-in-place rules don't directly affect custody orders, so you should continue following your current custody arrangement unless you and your ex agree to an alternative plan or a judge changes your custody order.

Courts are making it clear that disobeying court orders or withholding visitation during this time won't be tolerated and may result in contempt of court. But if you have valid concerns about your child's health and safety, you can try communicating with your ex to see what you can both do to reduce the risks to your child.

Within a family unit, creating an effective social distancing plan can be as simple as adopting rules for parents and children to follow within their home. But for divorced or separated parents, social distancing and staying healthy when children are going back and forth between two households can be challenging.

An example of a state issuing guidance on this is Delaware:

To be clear, neither the State of Emergency nor the Seventh Modification interferes with or invalidates any existing Family Court order regarding custody or visitation. Custody and visitation orders remain in full force and effect. Travel (including interstate travel) for the purposes of complying with a Family Court order is considered essential travel and permitted. Such travel was deemed essential in Governor Carney’s Fifth Modification to the COVID-19 State of Emergency Declaration issued March 22, 2020. Under the Seventh Modification, such travel remains essential and is excluded from the selfquarantine requirement.

CNN indicates that some states have more vague language, however:

Other states have left rulings vague. In Massachusetts, for example, John D. Casey, chief justice of probate and family court, last week issued an open letter that said, "both parents should cooperate."

Some states are apparently encouraging (but not requiring) virtual visitation, such as Vermont:

How is the Department for Children and Families dealing with social distancing?

According to Johnson, DCF has called its families to ask if they would be willing to have virtual visitations.

That all said: you should consider the risks that visitation would bring. If your child, or anyone in either household, is in the 'high risk' category, for example a child who is immunocompromised due to medication, or an elderly parent living at home with the family, it may be appropriate to limit or eliminate in person visitation. That would depend on an agreement between the two parents, though, to modify the arrangements temporarily; it would not be automatic.

It is highly recommended to have a conversation with your ex-partner, and be clear about your concerns and open to creative ideas. It may be safer to have fewer handoffs for longer periods of time - if it is normally 5 days / 2 days, then perhaps 3 weeks / 1 week is possible, for example, if the normally noncustodial parent is not working or is working at home and able to spend time with the child. The linked CNN article above has more recommendations along these lines.

Facetime/Skype/Zoom/etc. are good options for maintaining contact with the child without personal contact. Many activities can take place over videochat; reading a book to them, playing a board game virtually (one person moves pieces for the other player of course; or some games, like Battleship, can be played completely remotely); online games, of course, as well.

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You should probably discuss it with the other parent, but the main mitigation recommended by the CDC applicable inside the home is frequent hand washing. Aside from that, if you are practicing social distancing or mask wearing inside your own home, you may be able to negotiate the same from the other parent. You should probably not expect the other parent to take steps that you don't take.

Keep in mind that Covid-19 is much less dangerous for children than for adults. Children have 1/10 the detected infection rate of adults; only about 1 per 10,000 children in the US have contracted the disease, most in the NYC area. The detected cases in children also tend to be milder than in adults; the chance of death in detected cases is around 1% for adults, but only about 0.1% for children. The CDC reports only 3 child deaths from Covid-19, compared to at least 144 child deaths from flu, so far this winter.

144 flu deaths in children: https://www.aappublications.org/news/2020/03/13/flu031320

Covid-19 in children: https://arstechnica.com/science/2020/04/cdc-reports-data-on-2500-covid-19-cases-in-kids-including-3-deaths/

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