September 12, 2018
With Hurricane Florence soon making landfall in the Carolinas and Southern Virginia, families are starting to head for higher ground. Flights are being cancelled. Work and school are being closed city by city in preparation for an all-out natural disaster.
One challenge parents will face is the enforcement of child custody orders during events like hurricanes and other natural disasters. When it is the noncustodial parent’s turn to have children, can the custodial parent violate a court-ordered exchange to keep the children safe? We explore this question in detail for unmarried parents planning to head in separate directions as torrential rains and winds hit the coast.
A Child’s Best Interest is Safety
Virginia courts will enforce custody orders not only so children benefit from both parents’ time, but to adhere to the law. In forming visitation agreements or split custody agreements, one element exists that carries through all things in family law – a child’s best interests.
With this in mind, let us look at how family court may view natural disasters like category 3 hurricanes.
A family law attorney will never advise clients to violate orders. Not only could that jeopardize an arrangement, it could perturb the judge enough to strip time from the violating parent and grant additional time to the parent who lost time.
With that said, judges will also use common sense. Not many families are outdoors when winds hit 80-100 mph; in fact, few drive anywhere except west to avoid being flooded into their homes. If the custodial father is to exchange two daughters at 5pm Saturday, but both parents have been separated by four-foot gullies of water over a mile wide, it is not unreasonable for the parent who has the children to deny the exchange.
A good-faith effort should be made to contact the other parent, however, and pictures of the flooded area should be taken. When the parent who did not receive the children takes the custodial parent to court, proof can be provided to the presiding judge (who clearly watches the news and knows a hurricane touched down), who will likely strike the violation down since the custodial parent was acting in the child’s best interest in protecting him or her from disaster.
Never Outright Tell a Parent No
Regardless if the hurricane hits Category 5 and you are forced to evacuate into the mountains, never outright tell a noncustodial parent that he or she can not have the children as scheduled. Be reasonable, letting the other parent see proof that imminent danger will prevent a safe exchange of the children.
If you have done your part to maintain the custody order and have communicated properly via text or phone, any reasonable human being will understand, including a family court judge.
Looking to retain Cravens & Noll for family law matters? Have questions about child custody attorneys or situations regarding natural disasters? Contact our firm to schedule a no-obligation consultation.