The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has created fear and uncertainty throughout the United States and the world. This pandemic has affected almost every part of daily life, including co-parenting with ex-spouses.
School closures, social isolation, travel restrictions, and business closures can all affect your ability to co-parent as you would in normal times.
It’s essential for all divorced parents to keep the well-being of the children at the top of mind during this unprecedented time. This means prioritizing the child’s physical and emotional health. Unfortunately, these two things can seem to be at odds during this pandemic when traveling is restricted, but being close to both parents is ideal.
When possible, parents should try to have open and empathetic discussions with their exes in regards to caring for the children during this pandemic. When all parties can agree to help each other as necessary, it can help everyone get through this crisis–especially the children.
However, working through it together is not always possible, especially if your ex-spouse is determined to fight against you. In these cases, it’s important to know the legal standards so that you can avoid any further problems.
COVID-19 And Child Custody Access
Will COVID-19 Affect Custody Access
There is not a single law that covers what all ex-spouses should do regarding custody in emergency situations. Instead, it’s incumbent upon parents to check their divorce decrees and child custody orders to see what these documents say about emergencies. Unfortunately, most agreements do not list anything about what to do during a global pandemic. However, there might be other relevant wording that can help you determine your next steps.
Read through all court orders regarding your case and ask yourself these questions:
- Who gets the children during school closures?
- What constitutes an emergency situation according to these documents?
- What do these orders say I am supposed to do in an emergency?
Once you have considered the legal restrictions within your court orders, you must then consider the changes to your state and local laws. For example, some jurisdictions have ruled that parents should operate as if schools were open. Furthermore, many areas have passed shelter-in-place decrees that restrict the movements of residents.
While many of these decrees allow people to move in order to care for family members, it’s always a good idea to check the text of the bill to be sure.
In general, parents should not expect that COVID-19 and the resulting changes in society will legally stop them from seeing their children. However, some situations may arise in which the health and safety of the child supersede the parent’s rights.
Changing Child Custody Location Temporarily
Some parents may want to travel with their kids during this time, especially with travel so inexpensive. Furthermore, when parents live far away from one another, children may be required to take planes or other public transportation in order to visit their parents. Due to the current and ever-changing situation with the virus, this may be dangerous to the health of the child.
If your child’s other parent wants to travel with your child during this time, you may need judicial intervention in order to stop it. This may be especially important if the child would travel to or through a COVID-19 hotspot. Although many courts have suspended in-person and non-essential hearings, there may be legal actions you can take to stop the travel.
For example, judges may be willing to meet via teleconference. Be sure to contact a family law attorney in your jurisdiction if you find yourself in this situation.
Child Custody Access Modification Due to COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has fundamentally changed many lives. As such, some families may require changes to their child custody agreements. Exes should discuss what they are willing to do in any of the following situations:
- A child or parent gets the virus
- Schools close
- A parent is unable to work
These can be difficult conversations, even if you have a relatively good co-parenting relationship with your ex-spouse. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts came together to release a set of seven guidelines for co-parents during the COVID-19 crisis. The organizations advise parents to be:
- Healthy: first and foremost, follow the CDC, state, and local guidelines for health and safety.
- Mindful: Be aware but calm about the situation, and talk to children about the virus in age-appropriate ways
- Compliant: follow court orders and custody agreements whenever possible
- Creative: when parents can’t follow orders precisely, they should work together to find solutions
- Transparent: be honest with ex-spouses about your situation, particularly when it comes to possible COVID-19 exposure
- Generous: make reasonable accommodations for the other parent when possible, including allowing makeup time for missed visits
- Understanding: the pandemic could cause economic hardship for parents paying and receiving child support payments. It’s vital to be understanding of changing circumstances during this time.
Family law can be complicated at the best of times. In times like this, it can leave parents feeling at a loss for what to do. If you have consulted all the legal resources you have and you still have questions, be sure to contact a local family law attorney for help.
My ex and I are facing this right now. She lives on the other side of the country and should have had visitation with our son for spring and summer breaks. Fortunately, she’s on the same page with the risks, so we’re not fighting about it. The downside is I’m not sure when she’s going to be able to see our son. Neither of us are willing to put him on a plane right now. I’ve told her that she can have make up time, but she’s already got all of the available time she can use. For now, we’re just doing what we do normally – using all of the electronic means for them to stay connected.