We live in challenging times as we deal with a pandemic for the first time in a century. It has upended the rhythm of daily life and in particular how the family functions, particularly one governed by a custody order. Following the lead of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), we want to offer some advice over a series of posts to address different perspectives of parents and children. In this post, we look at some basics for parents in relation to handling existing court orders and concerns about the coronavirus.
First, follow your court order as much as possible. As we explained in a previous post, local government and state government both expect that parents will continue to follow the custody schedule in the decree. At the same time, parents must be somewhat flexible in the event that someone has the virus or worries that one household may have one or more people at greater risk of exposure. Adjustments will inevitably be necessary. But the closer you can adhere to the original court orders, the less the likelihood that you will suffer legal consequences later. Judges will not regard parents favorably who use the coronavirus as an excuse to change an agreement unilaterally.
Second, follow state and local orders regarding public health. Our governments have issued various “stay-at-home” orders to stop the spread of the virus. Parents and children both should follow these orders. Do not host a large get together so your child can feel more social and hang out with friends. Not only is this a direct violation of the government order, but it is also quite risky and could expose your household and the households of many others to the virus. A court that finds a parent sponsored such a gathering could use that as the basis for a motion to modify, as it puts the health and welfare of the child at risk. Both parents should be on the same page about complying with local health orders.
Third, when making decisions, rely on those of the experts not those on questionable social media sites. The best and most accurate health advice will be found at the Center for Disease Control site, www.cdc.gov, and other similar public health sites. Facebook feeds or twitter links to seemingly bizarre stories should be disregarded.
Fourth, master the art of communication. Many parents post-divorce still have difficulty communicating for some of the same reasons that led to divorce. At this moment in time, we need to rise above these issues and be our best selves, for the sake of our children. Be as civil and as reasonable as possible. If you have a medical disagreement, rely on your pediatrician to resolve any questions. If necessary, hold virtual sessions with the mediator in your decree. But it would be best to simply and sensitively discuss every concern in a rational and dispassionate manner for the best interest of the child.
Fifth, be honest with your ex in all communications. Be completely transparent with your ex about any possible exposure of your child or a family member to the virus, and certainly about any symptoms your child may exhibit.
Sixth, arrange to make up for lost time. If your ex is not able to see the children as much as is customary, be generous in arranging for the children to have more time with your co-parent later, when the crisis is over. If you put your revised agreements in writing and stick to them, a judge is likely to appreciate accommodations that have been made by both of you when court orders could not be followed.
Finally, learn how to become a virtual presence. This is the time to expand your technical skills. Learn how to use FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or Go to Meeting. Lots of folks stuck at home are being creative, arranging virtual dinner parties, cocktail parties, play readings, sing-alongs, etc. You can help your children spend time virtually with your ex—and with grandparents who can’t be visited–reading books, playing games, telling stories. The good old telephone is also a useful communication tool.
If parents follow these basic guidelines, the family as a whole will benefit and will emerge from this temporary situation much stronger and the children will feel most secure in a scary time.
If you have questions about parenting during COVID-19, contact us – we can help.