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Juggling Child Custody & Visitation During The COVID-19 'Stay At Home' Order

A paper cut-out of a family and children.
How does the "stay at home" order during Vermont's coronavirus state of emergecny effect families dealing with custody and visitation concerns? "Vermont Edition" finds out.

Vermont courts are under a judicial emergency during the coronavirus crisis, suspending most hearings and postponing most jury trials. But what does the governor's "Stay Home, Stay Safe" order mean for custody arrangements and court-mandated visitation?

Our guests are:

  • Judge Brian Grearson, Chief Superior Judge for the state of Vermont. Grearson oversees judicial officers and judges in Vermont’s trial courts, including those in the civil and family divisions.
  • Christine Johnson, Family Services Deputy Commissioner of Vermont's Department for Children and Families.

How does this “stay home” executive order change child custody for divorced parents?

Grearson said this order does not change the existing parent-child contract orders that may be in effect. 

Can a parent refuse to let kids travel to the other parents’ home due to fear of exposure?

Just the fear of something is not enough to warrant keeping a child from the other parent, said Grearson. If you believe there is an actual threat, you can petition the court. 

How are parents and children supposed to tackle divorce when it comes to social distancing? Is there flexibility to accomodate this need in the court system?

There is no easy answer for anyone, said Grearson. Parents need to work together to come up with some kind of temporary arrangement that works for the parents and for the kids. And if they can’t? That’s what the courts are for. 

How quickly is the court able to act right now?

Initially there is a pretty quick turnaround for the court to decide if a case is deemed an emergency or not. 

How is the Department for Children and Families dealing with social distancing?

According to Johnson, DCF has called its families to ask if they would be willing to have virtual visitations.

What advice do you have for families with current adoptions proceedings or who are trying to get custody back of their children?

Communication is key. Johnson said there is also a website set up to help foster families and youth who were formerly in foster care.

Broadcast live on Thursday, March 26, 2020 from 12-2 p.m.; rebroadcast from 7-9 p.m.

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