As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep through communities and countries, and as guidelines and information change and conflict, it’s easy to get confused about how you should be responding to the pandemic and how it affects your day-to-day reality. For families of divorce, the biggest challenges are navigating child custody schedules and splitting equal time, safely and fairly.
Is it safe to alternate weeks between parents’ homes? If one parent works in the healthcare industry, what is the protocol for modifying custody schedules? What if one parent is not following CDC guidelines? What if work and school now make it impossible for families to maintain child custody schedules? Here’s what parents need to know about navigating child custody schedules during COVID-19.
There Is No COVID-19 Blueprint for Child Custody Schedules
In and of itself, there’s nothing about a pandemic that changes whatever custody arrangement you already have in place. Custody parenting plans can be quite detailed with certain contingency plans in place. But the coronavirus crisis is unprecedented in modern America, and it’s unlikely that your current custody arrangement has a backup disaster plan in place.
Technically, this means that whatever you were supposed to be doing during this time, regarding custody, is what you should still be doing. However, most parents are temporarily unable to or unwilling to stick to the custody agreement in place due to the pandemic. And for a variety of many reasons, most of which are valid. So what’s to be done?
Co-Parenting for a Greater Purpose
Co-parenting can be tough even at the best of times – many parents find that they still harbor hurt feelings or distrust left over from the end of the relationship, and if they disagree on important parenting issues it can be difficult to find a middle ground. Add in the stress and uncertainty of a global pandemic, lockdowns, rapidly rising unemployment, and supply shortages and it can be even more difficult for stressed-out parents to put aside their differences and work together for the good of their child.
But however difficult it may be, the most efficient solution to custody schedules and difficulties amid COVID-19 is for parents to compromise and work together. In some areas, family courts are closed and unavailable to sort out custody disputes. Even in areas where courts are open, appearing in court in person may be unwise for vulnerable people or caregivers to vulnerable people. In other words, the usual resources for custody disputes are limited.
Parents should be aware that some children can be at risk for COVID-19 and for serious complications if they contract the virus. It’s a common talking point that children are less at risk, but certain underlying conditions, such as asthma or an immune disorder can put children at high risk just like adults. Furthermore, if you are high risk, you should be aware that if your child contracts the virus, even if they only suffer mild symptoms, they can pass it on to you and your symptoms might be more severe.
If you have concerns your child’s safety with the current custody schedule in place, and your ex is unwilling to compromise, consider scheduling a telemeeting with your ex and pediatrician. Your ex may be more willing to listen if it’s coming from a doctor. Transparently express your concerns with your ex-spouse. Keep in mind that if you’re requesting your ex-spouse to forego visits during this time, you’re asking him/her to make a sacrifice – and it’s a sacrifice for your child as well.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t ask, but it does mean that you should be aware of what you’re asking for and ready to suggest or agree to alternatives. Will you offer extra phone calls or video meetings with your child while they aren’t visiting their other parent? Will you agree to make-up visitation time once the danger has passed? Your ex may also be more willing to listen if you’re willing to admit that you’re asking for something difficult and you’re ready to offer alternatives and listen to their requests.
When Co-Parenting Isn’t Working (At Least in the Present)
It’s best for children to avoid catching a potentially dangerous virus and it’s also best for them to have two healthy parents who also avoid catching potentially dangerous viruses. Hopefully, most parents will recognize this and be willing to work with their former partners to find a safe and healthy solution for everyone. But there will always be some who choose to be unreasonable. If your ex won’t budge, what are you supposed to do? One option is to contact a family mediator.
Mediators work to help ex-couples through productive negotiations that lead to a resolution. Many mediators remain open and ready to assist parents during this time, possibly by phone or videoconference instead of in person. Depending on where you live, your local family court may also be open for emergency orders, which can be issued by phone. If a judge agrees that the custody arrangement should change for the duration of the health crisis, they can still issue an order to that effect.
A legal resource group can help you better understand your father’s rights in preparation for court. If the COVID-19 crisis has made your custody arrangement difficult, and your ex is uncooperative, contact National Family Solutions today and consult with an experienced legal professional to determine your eligibility for our services.