COVID-19: 7 Guidelines for Parents with Shared Custody
For divorced and separated parents, managing the care and custody of children can be a complicated task even in the best of times. While your children’s health and safety are always your top priority, the COVID-19 crisis has spawned logistical challenges to life with children never imagined before this.
One of the best articles to come through my email inbox with advice about this situation is the one below.
It summarizes the big picture of how to keep your children safe, healthy, and calm. Please also check the Resources list below for links to articles with ideas for specific situations and challenges.
Should you have a need to readdress your child support or child custody agreements, please see my article, “COVID-19: Modification of Child Support and Alimony Due to the Virus.”
7 Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorce/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID19 Pandemic
1. BE HEALTHY.
Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, 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.
2. 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 the news 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.
3. 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 time-sharing. In some jurisdictions there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school were still in session.
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
Keep the Children First in Priority
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.
Please consult with your attorney, mediator, and other professionals before taking action on any advice from these resources.
- BJ Mann WUHF-TV Video (5 min): Advice for divorced families during coronavirus pandemic
- Nolo.com: How to Handle Child Custody and Visitation During the COVID-19 Outbreak
- Child Mind Institute: Supporting Families During COVID-19
- Mandel Law Firm (NYC): My Kids are Home from School and I Need Extra Child Care During COVID-19 – What Should I Do?
- Mandel Law Firm (NYC): Can I See My Child if My Child is Quarantined in the Custodial Parent’s House During COVID-19? – Part 2
- Mandel Law Firm (NYC): Can the Custodial Parent Temporarily Relocate Outside of New York without Permission?
The above seven guidelines were released by leaders from two groups who deal with families in crisis: American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) :
Susan Myres, President of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML)
Dr. Matt Sullivan, President of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC)
Annette Burns, AAML and Former President of AFCC
Yasmine Mehmet, AAML
Kim Bonuomo, AAML
Nancy Kellman, AAML
Dr. Leslie Drozd, AFCC
Dr. Robin Deutsch, AFCC
Jill Peña, Executive Director of AAML
Peter Salem, Executive Director of AFCC
For more divorce topics covered by BJ Mann: BJ Mann Site Content Index
Photo credit: Unsplash—Ben Wicks