COVID-19 restrictions have been hard on everyone, particularly because of social distancing guidelines that were intended to slow or stop the spread of disease. This has prevented many people from seeing family members and friends.
For parents who have gone through a separation or divorce, the situation is especially tricky. Maintaining child custody and visitation arrangements are a legal necessity, and yet, these things are made more complicated by common pandemic-related factors like job loss, changes in living situations, remote work and learning, and of course, health concerns.
How can you continue to co-parent effectively with so many changes happening all at once? How can you support the best interests of children during this difficult time? Here are a few tips to cope, co-parent, and adhere to legal requirements during COVID-19.
Comply with Court Orders
The first thing you need to know is that changing circumstances do not automatically equate to changes in court-ordered child custody, visitation, child support, alimony, or other arrangements. If you unilaterally decide to make adjustments — even if you and your ex agree — it does not change your legal obligations, and you can be held accountable to written orders after the fact. Making adjustments to court orders requires court approval.
Account for Schedule Changes
Common changes during the pandemic have included job loss, switching to remote work, and remote learning, each of which could impact co-parenting schedules. Having children out of school means that at least one parent has to stay home or other childcare arrangements must be made.
In some cases, this could impact parenting time out of necessity, especially if one parent can work from home or has lost a job and the other is still working outside the home.
There are endless scenarios, but the important thing is to have a discussion and create a plan that works for both parties that is in the best interests of the children. When parents reach an agreement and approach the court together, amending court-ordered plans is much easier.
Changes in Parenting Time
With kids learning remotely, one or both parents may have to take on considerably more of the burden of childcare. A non-working or work-at-home parent may naturally end up spending significantly more time with children. This could shift the balance of parenting time, making for a complicated custody arrangement and potentially necessitating changes to child custody and/or child support agreements.
Household Health Considerations
Co-parenting during the pandemic has become a hot-button issue in cases in which one parent is an essential worker. In April of 2020, a case that got national attention ended with a Florida doctor temporarily losing custody of her daughter when the father petitioned the court to shield the child from the heightened risk of COVID-19 exposure that was related to the mother’s job.
When one household has greater exposure or one household has higher-risk inhabitants, like elderly grandparents, for example, commitment to equal co-parenting can go out the window. However, legal arrangements like custody must be observed. An unhappy party must petition the court for modification of existing orders.
Ultimately, most parents are inclined to act in the best interests of their children. In normal times, this would likely include maintaining a relationship with both parents, but the pandemic has caused some parents to shift priorities. Ultimately, it may be up to the courts to decide how co-parenting — or at least custody arrangements — will proceed.
If you need legal assistance in dealing with co-parenting concerns during the pandemic, contact a caring and experienced family law attorney at Bleecker Family Law today to request a consultation or to learn more.