Even in Divorce, the Coronavirus is Everywhere
Posted on 03/06/2020 at 10:54 AM by Mary Zambreno
Coronavirus is everywhere.
Figuratively speaking, it is prevalent on the news. But literally speaking, there are at least 84 countries with confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to this report by the Centers for Disease Control. In the United States, at least 13 states have reported coronavirus cases, according to the CDC.
While pandemics generally are not part of the discussion when addressing topics of divorce – divorce practitioners are more likely to discuss issues like custody, property division, and alimony with clients – it is possible that the coronavirus could start infiltrating visitation-related issues if it isn’t contained soon.
For example, if a parent intends to travel to a country or a state with a high amount of coronavirus reports, does the other parent have any grounds to refuse that visitation from occurring?
Currently, the CDC has recommended that all nonessential travel to China, Iran, South Korea, Italy, and Japan be suspended, avoided, or postponed. Generally, when a parent is deemed a joint legal custodian, courts assume that parent is making good and rational decisions in the best interest of the child. If the federal government has issued a high-level travel advisory for a particular country and a parent nevertheless insists on travel to that location, perhaps the other parent can initiate court proceedings to prevent the travel until such time as the travel advisory is lifted.
The Court certainly has jurisdiction to create geographic restrictions on visitation. In the case, In re Marriage of Stern, 2015 WL 568584, the Iowa Appellate Court ruled that the father was allowed to bring the child to Israel during visitation because there was no evidence that he intended to abscond with the child. Citing a New Jersey custody case, the Stern Court noted that “[a]lthough not an explicit rule or standard, ‘[g]enerally, courts have approved out-of-country visitation when the country is a signatory to the Hague Convention and there is insufficient proof of an intention to wrongfully retain the child.’” In the Stern case, the mother was concerned that the father would not return the child to the United States and that it would be difficult and expensive if the child was not returned voluntarily. The Court noted that Israel is a signatory of the Hague Convention on Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction.
While the underlying facts of the Stern case clearly differ from the issue now, which is whether a parent can or should, over the other parent’s objections, travel to a state or country where coronavirus has been reported, it is clear that the Court can impose geographic restrictions or even time-based restrictions on a party’s visitation and can look to federal or international guidelines when doing so.
Looking for more information on COVID-19 and Divorce? Read Attorney Regan Wilson's blog "I am Laid Off Due to Covid-19: Do I Still Have a Child or Spousal Support Obligation?"
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