Custody Issues and Coronavirus: Tips for Co-parenting and Avoiding Conflict During the Pandemic
The coronavirus pandemic is shifting our landscape daily – if not hourly – and uncertainty and fear about the future loom larger than ever.
Staying healthy has never been more anxiety-inducing, the economy is in crisis, schools are closed, and our local Courts are operating on an emergency basis. To top it all off, many parents are also grappling with co-parenting and custody issues during this unprecedented time.
As family lawyers, we are fielding calls and e-mails from clients regularly about how to manage conflict and scheduling issues through this time of upheaval. Although you should always seek counsel from your attorney since the facts and circumstances of every case are different, here are our top five tips to keep in mind during the pandemic.
1. Review your Parenting Agreement and/or Custody Order
If you already have a parenting agreement or a Court order regarding custody in place, review it now.
Although it is unlikely to include a specific clause about how to handle a pandemic, many agreements and orders do include language about how to handle unexpected school closures, sick days for a minor child, the availability (or not) of the scheduled custodial parent, or other unusual circumstances. These clauses may apply to the current situation and may be a helpful guide for navigating through this time.
If your agreement does not include any applicable language, or you do not have an agreement or order in place yet, then you should try to agree upon a temporary custodial plan with your co-parent, so that both parents and children can understand what to expect moving forward.
2. Keep a Routine for Your Children
Although it is impossible to predict when schools will re-open or when our daily lives will get back to “normal,” it is important to create as much stability as possible for your children during this uncertain time.
Maintaining your current custody schedule could be one way to do this. If lack of childcare, the need to telework, a requirement to self-quarantine, or any other changes to daily life make creating a temporary custody schedule optimal, then figure out what that schedule will be with your co-parent and do your best to stick to it. It might also be helpful for the children to have a daily routine within each parents’ home that will be similar across both homes.
3. Communicate as Much as Possible
If you are able to communicate productively with your co-parent, then keep it up. Positive communication includes:
- Develop a plan about how to deal with a possible infection – whether of a parent or household family member, or of the child.
- Keep each other informed in real time about any symptoms exhibited by your child, any changes to your own work requirements or schedule, and how you are handling home-schooling.
- Try to collaborate, for the benefit of your children.
If your relationship with your co-parent is high-conflict or abusive in nature, then use your attorneys to help you with these kinds of communications.
4. Keep Things in Perspective
We are all in uncharted waters right now, and there is a lot going on that none of us can control. Try to be reasonable as unpredictable situations arise, and try to be logical about how to solve them.
The health and safety of our children (and ourselves) is what is most important at the end of the day, not whether your child’s transition between parents that was supposed to take place at the now-closed school actually took place next door at the supermarket. If one parent is going to take on more time with the children because of an ability to care for them while school is closed, then schedule make-up time for the other parent. If one parent has to self-quarantine, then ensure the children continue to have contact over the phone, through FaceTime or Skype, or via text and email.
If you and your co-parent are unable to agree on alternate logistics for your custody schedule in light of the pandemic, then you may need your attorney to help you navigate through this time.
5. Be as Understanding and Flexible as Possible
The upheaval we are all facing is likely to highlight differences in parenting styles and decision-making regarding minor children.
Remember to focus on your child’s best interests, and consider that there is often no right or wrong way to handle any given situation. We will all need different strengths to get through the coming weeks, so try to be flexible and compromising for the benefit of your children where possible.
Courts in Maryland are largely closed for family law matters except for domestic violence petitions and true emergencies, so contact your attorney if you are unable to resolve an issue regarding custody on your own. Additionally, the financial fallout from this pandemic is in early stages, but as workers lose their jobs, they will also lose their ability to pay child support.
Contact an attorney right away if you are unable to meet your child support obligation, if you are not receiving child support owed to you, or if you and your co-parent have agreed to any changes regarding child support during this time.
If you need further information about any of the topics mentioned above, or other issues related to the coronavirus, please contact a Lerch Early family law attorney.