Last Updated On: 4/28/2020 10:16:36 AM
As a result of COVID-19, West Virginia’s courts are only hearing emergency cases until May 15, 2020. All non-emergency cases have been postponed. This includes non-emergency custody disputes where the health or safety of a child is not at serious risk.
There may be longer than average delays before a Court can hear these non-emergency cases. During this time parents are still required to obey custody orders unless they both agree to temporary changes. There may be severe consequences for a parent that takes advantage of the temporary delay in our court system to disobey or ignore existing custody orders.
Do I have to send my child for visitation?
Yes. According to Governor Jim Justice’s “Stay at Home Order” following a parenting plan is an essential activity. More specifically, if no one in the household has tested positive for COVID-19, has been exposed to COVID-19, or shows symptoms of COVID-19, visitation is to go on as scheduled.
What do I do if a party is refusing to return my child?
If a party is refusing to return the child, you can:
- Remind them according to Governor Justice’s “Stay at Home Order” visitation is to go on as scheduled.
- Try to work out an agreement with the opposing party. For example: consider switching to your summer schedule.
- File an emergency contempt and outline thoroughly why this is an emergency. The court is not hearing cases unless they are an emergency.
- Call the non-emergency line at the police department or local state police and request they accompany you to pick up the child. When you meet them, have the order in hand.
What do I do if my supervised exchange location is closed?
If the typical exchange is at a visitation center or another location and location is closed down:
- Check if your County’s Family Court Judge has an alternative they want you to use. For example, according to the Lewis County Family Court, all exchanges shall be conducted in front of the entry of the Lewis County Courthouse Annex.
- See if the you and the other party are able to come to an agreeable location with a camera.
- If you and the other party are unable to come to an agreement, use the local police department or a gas station with a camera.
How can I safely do supervised visitation?
COVID-19 is likely to cause difficulty in cases where visitation is ordered to be supervised. While the health and safety of a child is the ultimate concern, the right of a child and parent to stay in continued contact is also one of our oldest and most important rights for both parents and children.
Supervised visitation should only be stopped when there is a clear and present threat to the health of the child and no other reasonable alternative exists. If the visitation is supervised by a family member or friend, and none of the supervisors, nor anyone else in the household has symptoms of COVID-19 or has been exposed, visitation should go on as scheduled until otherwise ordered.
If the visitation is supervised by a supervisory center and that center is closed:
- Try to work out an agreement with the opposing party.
- Agree to an alternative supervisor.
- If it is safe, supervise the visit yourself at a location which allows for social distancing. The Center for Disease Control recommends a space of six feet from others (outside of your family) and no large crowds. Safe examples: walking on the rail trail, taking a hike, visitation at your home.
- If the opposing party has a history of domestic violence or abusive behavior do not supervise the visitation yourself.
If you are unable to come to an agreement about a safe alternative for supervised visitation make the child/children available by video, like FaceTime, Facebook Messenger, or Skype.