Joint Custody and COVID-19

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The Atlantic ran a very interesting story recently describing the experiences of different families in New York City trying to work with their joint custody orders in light of the pandemic. It is a worthy read.

The unpredictability stands out first and foremost. For example, one parent thought it best to shelter in place with the child when the lockdown began, only to have the whole family come down with the virus. The other parent did not go crazy or go to court, but simply offered emotional support.

Another point that recurred: the virus brought out both the best and worst in divorced couples. The fear of getting sick made some parents react more coldly and authoritatively and unilaterally than normal, and not always for the best. In others, this fear brought out the best of parents, helping them bridge communication gaps.

We know so much more about how the virus works and how it has uprooted our lives that we can now take more precautions and work at making joint custody decisions that work for an individual family. Some flexibility will be necessary; compassion a must; and both parents need to make the child feel secure in crazy times.

As we have said before, Missouri believes court orders should continue to be followed, and that is the starting point for all joint custody arrangements in Missouri now. Deviations may become necessary, but both parents should start with the premise that any missed time will be made up in the future (and that time should be tracked) and that even if a child stays in one place only, that child should have lots of contact by phone (audio and video). What type of deviations qualify? Certainly, if one parent or household member gets sick, or if one household has at least one high-risk member. But as the article from The Atlantic pointed out, other issues come into play: transportation that exposes the child and therefore a household; how much exposure household members bring to the child; special health or educational needs of the child.

As the time for easing some restrictions begins, parents also face tough challenges. Some kids may want to socialize and try and go out, while parents feel differently. Parents must work together to make sure the easing fits with their personal family profile and needs, as well as staying in line with county and state guidelines. When in doubt, go with caution.

If you have questions about joint custody during the coronavirus pandemic, contact us – we can help.

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