Most divorced parents in their parenting plans have provisions for summer vacations. Some might require significant advance notice and the parent may have paid for part of the vacation in advance. Normally, other than trying not to conflict with other activities the child may have during the summer, planning the summer vacation is not controversial.
Suppose a parent had planned a trip to Disneyworld, now scheduled to reopen next week. Florida is currently a hot spot for COVID-19, with thousands of new cases every day in the last two weeks alone. The news shows videos of people not social distancing and not wearing masks. Is the risk of contracting the virus sufficient grounds to ask a court to cancel the vacation?
This is not an easy question to answer.
Let’s start with what we do know. Some parts of the country right now are experiencing high outbreaks of the virus, and some vacation locales are not practicing social distancing or wearing masks. Some types of travel are riskier with respect to the virus than others. Indeed, the CDC still recommends that people act cautiously and stay home or at least local. Today, New York and New Jersey both banned travel into their state by people who live in states with high outbreaks. So, at a minimum, we can say vacation travel certainly implicates a higher risk of exposure. Also, not all states are ”open for business” the same as others, which could impact a parenting plan.
If the child at issue has any health concerns – preexisting conditions like asthma or a history of respiratory problems – the other parent could certainly ask the child’s pediatrician whether it would be too risky for the child to go and ask that doctor to put that opinion in writing to both parents. If the doctor says it would be ok, that helps move toward resolution. But the method of travel may be critical too – the risk of contracting the virus is higher flying than it would be driving. That aspect would have to be addressed.
What if the doctor says the child should not go? In this case, if the parent still insists on taking the child on the vacation, the other parent would need to consult an attorney and perhaps seek an emergency hearing to allow a judge to make a decision. Or, if the parties have a mediator or parent coordinator, the parties could try to resolve the matter through that person.
Even if the individual child would not be more at risk if the child contracted the virus, the child still risks becoming an asymptomatic carrier when the child returns. That could place the other parent at risk, as well as others in that parent’s household. In that event, having the child return to the custody of the other parent immediately upon return could be dangerous, necessitating the child isolate with the traveling parent for 7-14 days, or to procure two negative virus tests. In either case, the child would miss time with the other parent that would need to be rescheduled. If the parent refuses to accommodate, either with taking the child upon return or in makeup time, the parent would need to look to an attorney for advice and assistance.
The child is not the narrow focus in this situation, as the child is part of a nuclear and immediate family that may have members more at risk if exposed to the virus. One would hope that both parents could work together to address the issue of travel and vacation in a compassionate and thoughtful manner, sensitive not to risk getting someone seriously ill. But if parents cannot see eye to eye on the vacation, and one parent feels at risk or highly concerned, at a minimum that parent should attempt to secure in writing an agreement to follow a travel protocol and a safety protocol to safeguard the risk of contracting the virus. And if grandparents have visitation rights, and they are likely by definition at risk, they should not feel afraid to speak up and voice their concerns, even if it must be in court.
As we have said multiple times in our posts, we do not live in normal times and parents need to keep that in mind as the virus potentially disrupts issues in the parenting plan.
If you have questions about COVID-19 and vacations, contact us – we can help.