Many counties in the greater St. Louis area, including Jefferson County, are more than a week into their 30-day Stay-at-Home Order implemented to slow the spread of the Coronavirus.
Additionally, St. Francois County is also implementing their own stay-at-home order effective Friday, April 3 following increased COVID-19 cases in Missouri.
What this means is that everyone in St. Louis City, St. Louis County, Jefferson County and St. Francois County must remain at home except for doing essential activities like going to the grocery store, doctor’s office or even walking in public parks.
However, many parents are left wondering how will this impact their child custody arrangement and whether drop-offs and pick-ups are considered “essential activities.”
What are “Essential Activities?”
So, will child custody drop-off arrangements be included in those “essential activities?” You should count on it.
Although it doesn’t specifically lay out “child custody,” the St. Louis Stay-at-Home Order states that individuals can leave the house “to perform tasks essential to the health and safety of individuals, their families, household members and pets, such as obtaining medical supplies or medications, visiting a health care professional, or obtaining supplies necessary to work from home.”
Since the custody agreement is a court order, just like the Stay-at-Home Order, it must be followed.
Other essential activities for individuals listed are:
- Obtain or delivery of food, household supplies
- Activities related to maintaining safety and sanitation
- Outdoor walking or exercise provided they maintain social distancing of at least six feet from any other person
- Going to work wherein allowed
St. Francois County & Jefferson County Child Custody
In St. Francois County’s COVID-19 Stay-At-Home Order, custody transfers are specifically mentioned as an essential activity in article 4, section D:
“Necessary care for a dependent in the person’s legal custody, including acts essential for a parent with legal custody to transfer physical custody of a child.”
“The Judges of the 23rd Judicial Circuit state the following:
Any order issued by a judge regarding child custody which is otherwise valid, shall remain in full force and effect. Law enforcement shall have authority to enforce custody, visitation and parenting time orders so long as enforcement does not contradict orders of the Jefferson County Juvenile Court, or any self-quarantine guidelines of Jefferson County Health Department, Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Center for Disease Control or other state or federal agency promulgated to contain COVID-19.
If compliance with the custody, visitation or parenting time order would be impossible or dangerous (for example, because a member of the receiving parent’s household has been exposed to COVID-19), the parents are encouraged to make alternative arrangements for exchange by agreement, which may result in extending the time with each parent and /or make up time. If parents are unable to agree, the parties may seek relief through the appropriate legal process. In the absence of an agreement (preferred) or court order, all parties are expected to safely comply with existing court orders.
Failure to exercise prudent caution may be grounds for a temporary restraining order. Likewise, failure or refusal to comply with a court order relating to custody and visitation of children may be grounds for a finding of contempt, which could result in a modification of custody, a fine or monetary sanctions, or imprisonment.”
So regardless of where you live, there is little room for argument – if you have a court-ordered custody agreement in place, it must continue to be enforced during Jefferson County and St. Francois County stay-at-home orders.
Creating New Normals
In this time of uncertainty, it’s important to provide as much normalcy and structure as we can. That includes our children’s routines, as well as our own. While we are all at home together, working, homeschooling or just trying to stay sane, it gets easier and easier to become lethargic.
Experts suggest maintaining as much of your “old routine” as you can. Stick to meal times, get dressed for work/school, and stick to parenting schedules.
The Missouri Association of Family and Conciliation Courts issued a joint statement with the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers entitled “7 Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID19 Pandemic.”
This is definitely a good read for further recommendations on how parents with custody agreements should react to the Stay-at-Home Order.
Every parent that has a question about their ongoing custody agreement should seek guidance of an experienced family law attorney.
The attorneys of Marler Law Partners are available to help with all of your family law needs. We remain fully operational, so please don’t hesitate to call if you have questions during these difficult times.
Have questions about how the St. Francois County, Jefferson County and Greater St. Louis Stay-At-Home Orders impact your custody agreement?
Call 573-713-0091 To Schedule A Consultation