As millions of people around the globe start practicing social distancing and self-quarantine, they are separating themselves from everyone but their immediate family members. However, for divorced or separated parents who have shared care arrangements they are facing an even greater uncertainty when faced with complying with court orders and parenting plans.
Already, family lawyers are being inundated with calls from concerned and unsure parents worried about allowing their children to return to the other parents’ home in fear that the other parent may not be practicing social distancing. They are contemplating keeping their child away from the other parent, in violation of a shared-custody agreement – but wonder how courts will react and how it may affect them moving forward.
With many family courts closed or delaying hearings, families with co-parenting arrangements will have to make up arrangements as they go along. Our advice is to try to work together – however difficult that may be – to provide for the best interests of their children, and to preserve a sense of fairness and equity, both emotionally and legally, however, custody is shared.
As many businesses and workplaces shut down or move to work from home arrangements, many parents may find opportunities to adjust schedules so the child can be cared for by one parent or the other, rather than bring in the care of sitters, nannies or members of the extended family.
Public health experts say it’s best to limit social circles to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
When possible, parents should try to act as a team in this situation, even if it is difficult. This is not the time to keep a minute accounting of how many overnights the other parent has had or to argue that the current school closures should be treated like summer vacation.
It is stressful for everyone – parents and children alike – to live through this pandemic. Children don’t need the added worry of their parents fighting. They badly need more stability and reassurance – especially about their contact and connection with those who love them the most.
If an agreement really cannot be made, the path gets much more precarious.
Parents who fear for their children’s health may be willing to take their chances and hope that when this is all over, the family courts will agree with them that their decision was reasonable. However, this is a gamble – and regardless of the outcome is likely to involve significant legal expense and time fighting in court.
The choices parents make in the next few weeks affect not only the immediate health and welfare of their children and families but may also have an impact on their future custody arrangements.
The circumstances surrounding many custody disputes have changed drastically in the past week, but as always, the safest bet is cooperation.