Preparing Your Coronavirus Co-Parenting Plan For the Road Ahead
Across the country, divorced parents are struggling with difficult decisions regarding the custody agreement which was put in place prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shelter-in-place orders, regional lockdown, and ever-present health concerns have forced parents to modify their usual custody schedules and rewrite routines. When the relationship is amicable, changes go relatively smoothly. In other cases where parents are estranged, improvisation has necessitated the support of qualified divorce attorneys. Opening old wounds can make things even more stressful and an experienced professional can make all of the difference in these cases.
Types of Custody
The two kinds of custody in New Jersey are legal and physical. Legal custody refers to participation in the process of decision-making in the child’s education, religious upbringing, medical care, and other important decisions. Physical custody refers to the actual place in which the child will reside and spend time. Typically, a divorced couple will have shared legal and physical custody.
The Routine Has Changed
One part of the current custody challenge is logistical. Many divorced parents who live close to each other exchange kids at schools or workplaces, most of which are closed. Some parents who live in separate towns risk violating shelter-in-place orders if they go too far out of their way to drop-off or pick-up a child. Some parents do not have childcare available as they usually would and are unable to stay at home due to circumstances at work. Not all jobs can be done from home and babysitters are expensive.
Another part of the issue is medical. How do you know your ex is practicing social distancing and the rules of hygiene to prevent your children from getting sick? How do you know your ex’s new partner is keeping himself or herself safe enough not to infect your child? These are legitimate questions that many divorced parents are asking right now.
Current Custody Orders are in Effect
The tallest hurdle for divorced parents during the pandemic is the legal one. If parents want to formally modify pre-existing custody agreements, they can’t because either the family courts are closed, or they are only receiving emergency cases such as abuse or abandonment.
Interpretation of divorce laws are vague and most of the cases have ended in the judges encouraging both parties to cooperate and be flexible. Attorneys are advising clients to put any temporary tweaks to the original custody agreement in writing, save hard copies of all messages regarding changes to the agreement, and to be as flexible as possible knowing that at some point things will return to what was originally agreed upon. Oftentimes, parents propose virtual meet-ups on FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype for parents who can’t be with their kids in the same house. Also, those parents who offer to make changes to the schedule now in exchange for additional time with their children later in the year, especially if that time includes vacation or the holidays.
Negotiating with an ex
In these crazy times, perhaps the best option for navigating a contentious custody situation is mediation. This process can provide a roadmap of where each parent stands; a roadmap that could help judges sort out specifics of custody changes down the line. It’s better to mediate if possible with both parents and their attorneys present. Negotiating a temporary agreement can mean setting up adherence to the new plan until a specific date, or it can be more flexible (Ex. Until Phase 2 or 3 is in effect). Also, there should be a stipulation as to what happens if someone within one home or the other becomes sick or tests positive for the virus. In keeping in line with the children’s best interests, parents who work in hospitals or are first responders may want to reconsider prolonged home visits with their children due to the possibility of exposure.
Parents should try to be team players, even when it is difficult. This is not the time to keep score of how many hours of visitation the other parent has had or to say that because schools are closed, that should count for summer vacation time. Keep in mind that the goal is the health and welfare of your children and not who wins the latest argument. The custody choices parents make can affect not only their children and families but may also affect their future custody arrangements.
How Can I Know I Have the Best Plan Possible?
Creating a fair plan that runs smoothly and covers all of the bases of physical and legal custody should be worked out between you and your attorney, and your spouse and his/her attorney. It is vital to get an agreement on paper and noted as a legal record of the decisions you and your former spouse make in order to provide a safe, stable environment for your family during this pandemic.
Contact our Little Falls Office Today and Let us Guide you in Co-Parenting during this difficult time
To speak with a qualified attorney from Del Sardo & Montanari our firm today regarding your child co-parenting issues, please fill out our online form or call our Little Falls office at (973) 233-4396 today for a confidential consultation.