I recently read an article which I found very compelling and wanted to share the information contained therein with our clients. The article, “Co-Parenting During Coronavirus: 7 Guidelines to Help Divorced Parents” by Matt Berical, includes rules provided by divorce lawyers and family law specialists to offer clarity for those trying to co-parent through this unprecedented time in history. I have included the text of his article below along with some of my own thoughts on these issues (my thoughts are italicized).
Never has anyone living today seen a pandemic like COVID-19. We are all struggling for answers to questions we never thought we’d have. In a divorced or co-parenting situation, we need guidance. The best interest of the children standard should always be the first guidepost in your mind. However, here are a few other considerations for you as you journey through these uncertain times.
- Be Healthy. Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive handwashing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.
- Be Mindful. Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave CNN on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.
- Be Compliant with court orders and custody agreements. As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing.
There will be situations where travel is necessary to comply with your order or agreement. Courts have recently limited public access and hours of operation making getting back in front of your judge difficult, if not impossible during this pandemic. Although modifying a court order would require a judge’s signature, or a provision allowing for such a modification, evidence of your good faith efforts to comply with your order, can prove helpful later. A simple notarized document addressing the temporary changes, although not binding as a modification to your court order, could prove helpful in court, if compliance is absolutely impossible. This, in no way, is a supplement for a judicial modification, but can show your good faith attempts to be compliant, should you later end up in court.
- Be Creative. At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.
- Be Transparent. Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly, both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.
- Be Generous. Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.
- Be Understanding. There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances. Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.