My Co-Parent is Ignoring Stay-at-Home Orders. How Can I Protect my Children?

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What can I do if my ex disregards the stay-at-home order and puts our children at risk?


I am licensed to practice law in the state of New Jersey and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. As such I may not be licensed in your state and therefore cannot give you legal advice. That said, I am able to provide you with some general observations based on the jurisdictions where I practice. 

Certainly, the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all facets of our lives, and access to the courts is no exception. Some courts are closed, and many are limited in their operations, due to mandated closures, shelter-in-place restrictions, and social distancing guidelines. As such, there is a lot of confusion centered around what parents can or cannot do.

As a general proposition, while many courts may be limiting in-person appearances, they still are operating and are still accepting emergency filings and applications. Depending on your jurisdiction, this may be a motion or an order to show cause filing.

Typically these sorts of filings are predicated on an emergent issue impacting on the safety and well-being of a child or children. Many courts have mechanisms in place to be able to review these applications expeditiously and render temporary orders.

One of the most difficult questions that arises in these situations is whether the actions of the other party rise to the level of an emergency warranting immediate court intervention. While I do not know the specific facts of your situation, presumably anytime a child is at serious and/or imminent risk of harm, you may have cause to file an emergent application with the court. 

Different jurisdictions have set forth distinct and varying stay-at-home orders. For instance, Pennsylvania and New Jersey consider custody exchanges to fall under the umbrella of essential travel. Some jurisdictions also are allowing limited travel to visit family for instance provided that other guidelines involving social distancing, number of people involved, etc. are met. 

Even if the other parent’s actions do not rise to the level of an emergency, many courts also still are accepting and processing filings, including those to modify current custody orders and those alleging contempt on the part of the other parent.

So while immediate relief from the court may be tethered to the question of whether or not the child is at serious risk of harm, long-term even if the answer to that question is no, it still may be in the children’s best interests to bring the matter to the court’s attention through the filing of a motion to modify custody. At the very least, if one parent is ignoring stay-at-home orders, that may raise legitimate questions about their judgement moving forward.

Another reason to move now rather than later is that with all of the delays in the courts resulting from the pandemic, many courts could experience a backlog once normal operations resume. As such, it always is better to be closer to the front of the line.

The major takeaway is that you have options here. Many courts have procedures in place to process emergency filings that can typically be reviewed and heard quickly. Even if your situation does not quite rise to the level of an emergency from the court’s perspective, many still are accepting ordinary filings involving custody and parenting time, meaning that you have the ability to put the issue before the court. This is true even if you do not have a custody order and need to make an initial filing with the court.

Because your situation impacts on your children, I strongly encourage you to consult with a licensed attorney in your jurisdiction who focuses on family law and is tuned into what is happening with your courts. From there, you will be able to better understand your rights and make informed decisions that are in the best interests of your children. 

Due to the fact-specific nature of this situation, an attorney licensed in your state, who specializes in family law matters will be able to provide you with tips tailored to your unique circumstances. Please remember that because I likely am not licensed in your state, I am unable to provide you with anything more than these general observations. With that, please consult a domestic litigation attorney in your state for specific information and tips as to the law and how it may impact your case.  

To arrange an initial consultation to discuss divorce rights for men with a Cordell & Cordell attorney, contact Cordell & Cordell.

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