Even during Shelter-in-Place, You Must Obey Court Orders Regarding Your Children

On Monday, March 30th, Governor Larry Hogan issued an official “shelter-in-place” order for the state of Maryland. Under such an order, individuals are required to stay in their homes as much as possible, avoiding person-to-person contact to help flatten the curve of the virus. The order includes exceptions, such as grocery shopping, picking up medications, or going for a run, but the ultimate goal is to have people stay home.

These extraordinary measures are designed to protect us, but they have led to a lot of confusion about what is acceptable and what is not. That is why the Maryland Judiciary issued a statement regarding child custody, child support, and protective orders:

  1. You must continue to pay your child support unless you modify your agreement through the courts.
  2. You must continue to abide by your child custody order. This means that both parents are entitled to parenting time, and you must be in agreement if you jointly wish to adjust your parenting schedule.
  3. All interim protective, peace, and extreme risk orders remain in effect. The courts are continuing to hold hearing regarding the orders, to ensure the safety of those at-risk or subjected to abuse.

Do I still have to pay child support if I lose my job due to COVID-19?

Yes, you do. Failure to pay child support is a violation of a court order, which can result in fines, wage garnishment, suspension of your driver’s license, liens on your home or business, or even jail time.

However, these are extraordinary times, and many people have lost jobs as a result of the virus. As such, you may be unable to pay your child support. If this is the case, you must go through the courts to modify your agreement, even if your spouse is amenable. Given your financial situation, your attorney may be able to classify this modification as a “family law emergency,” in order to move your petition forward. If you have questions about how to proceed, we can assist you through video consultation or a phone call.

Do I have to pay spousal support if I lose my job due to COVID-19?

Yes, you do. Alimony is also court-ordered, and failure to pay it can result in the same penalties as failing to pay child support will.

Do I have to force my child out of the house in compliance with a child custody order?

Potentially, yes. All child custody orders are still in effect, and failing to follow the order can result in serious penalties. There could, however, be exceptions:

  1. If one parent is deemed an “essential worker” or a medical professional, and will not be able to properly care for the child;
  2. If one parent, or if someone in that parent’s household, has contracted the virus; or
  3. If one parent, or if someone in that parent’s household, is medically vulnerable and/or in quarantine.

If both parents agree that shuttling the child back-and-forth would be dangerous or detrimental to the child or the parents’ health, you can be more creative in how you share parenting time. Video conferencing, extra phone calls, and extra time online with the other parent may be best for you. However, you should consult with your attorney (as your co-parent should consult with his or hers) to ensure that neither of you are in violation of the order. If you and your ex-spouse are not in agreement, contact your lawyer to work out an alternative with your ex’s attorney.

Can I ask my spouse to retain physical custody of my child to keep him/her safe?

Potentially, yes. While much focus is on parents who are frightened about their children leaving their homes, there are also parents who are frightened about having their children come into their homes. They want to spend time with their children, but they don’t want their kids being moved, or they work in a field where they may come into contact with COVID-19 patients.

The same rules apply if you don’t want your child physically near you for reasons of their safety. We urge you to contact your attorney to discuss your legal rights and options.

Can I leave my home with my child if I am being abused?

Yes, you can. Acts of domestic violence can trigger emergency hearings for temporary protective orders and extreme risk protective orders (ERPOs).

Is there ANY “wiggle room” when it comes to court orders during this outbreak?

A court order is a court order: period. At this time, there have been no waivers granted, nor any additional measures taken, by the Maryland Judiciary. If you are ordered to pay support, you must pay. If you share custody and parenting time, you must share. Violating a court order can lead to contempt or even criminal charges.

However, you are not without options. The truth is your attorney can help you with any of these given scenarios. Unprecedented times call for creative measures that still follow the law, to ensure that you, your ex-spouse, and your children are safe, secure, and healthy.

The family law attorneys of McCabe Russell, P.A. understand just how frustrating these issues can be under the best of circumstances; in the face of a pandemic, they can feel even more overwhelming. We are here to help you navigate the laws and adjust to your new normal. We offer mediation and consultations via web conference, video chat, and phone conferences. We will represent your best interests and those of your children in emergency hearings and in negotiations with your ex-spouse’s counsel. You can trust us to protect you and your family in these trying times, and in the days to come.

To reserve a consultation time with a member of our team, please call 449.917.3347, or fill out our contact form. McCabe Russell, P.A. represents families throughout Howard and Montgomery Counties.