How Coronavirus Affects Custody Plans

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COVID-19 has thrown the lives of millions of people into upheaval. In one unprecedented event, our day to day existence changed in drastic fashion. This manifests in almost every aspect of our lives. We’re also seeing a variety of new and unusual family law issues pop up. Divorced parents face one question in particular: how to handle custody issues in the age of coronavirus.

We exclusively practice family law and recently we’ve been fielding an uptick in calls about custody situations impacted by the coronavirus in one way or another. Kids’ routines have been upset or completely obliterated. They’re home from school, can’t see their friends, and most activities have been canceled.

One of our founding partners, Rick Jones, recently lent his expertise to KIRO 7 News. He addresses a number of topics, including how the coronavirus has and continues to impact custody arrangements and some of the issues it raises.

Questions we’re hearing more frequently include:

“Is my parenting plan still enforceable? Can she or can he withhold the children? Can we even by agreement deviate from this parenting plan, for all the right reasons, if in fact someone has tested positive?”

With so many people out of work, finances have become even more pressing than usual. Child support payments are often a strain even in the best of times, let alone now. So how can people cope with these circumstances that change from one day to the next?

Related Reading: Will Coronavirus Cause a Spike in the Divorce Rate?

Custody Orders

There’s no rule book for how to proceed. This is an entirely new situation. Still, the question remains, do you have to stick to your custody arrangement or parenting plan?

The short answer is: yes. At least to the best of your ability.

Courts are still open, though in a limited capacity and primarily for urgent matters. One of these instances is in cases where a parent violates the court-ordered custody arrangement.

If that happens, you can still take legal action to enforce the order and protect your parental rights.

As always, the best interests of the child or children take precedence over other concerns. But as long as it’s safe, it’s best to keep as close to the original custody schedule as possible.

This can be tough with stay-at-home orders requiring us to limit our travel to essential tasks only. In most places, however, custody exchanges fall into this category. At the very least, many shelter-in-place orders don’t necessarily supersede parenting plans.

But as with so much lately, things can get twisted and tricky in a hurry. Kids aren’t the only ones who have had their schedules thrown for a loop.

A lot of parents are also in flux and have had their routines upended. Many couples have taken steps to temporarily modify their custody arrangements.

If a couple has at least an amicable relationship, this may work well. They can figure out how to minimize trips into the outside world while making sure everyone gets what they need.

When there’s more conflict and couples who aren’t able to work together, problems may arise. Or if parents live far away from each other.

It’s one thing if your ex lives a few minutes across town, but in another city? Or another state? Those represent major hurdles.

Thus far, none of this even takes into account health and medical issues.

Do you trust that your ex is taking social distancing and isolation seriously enough? What about the people around your child when you’re not there?

How about if your ex or a new partner works in a high-risk profession, like a doctor, nurse, or in another essential medical field? Or, god forbid, someone was exposed to the coronavirus? As much as we want to be, we’re not always in control of every scenario.

Depending on the situation, you may have to get creative. Even if you don’t have in-person contact, there are ways to stay in touch. Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, and many other tools exist so you can see each other.

If you do alter your custody arrangement, it’s probably best to keep track of it. Save emails, text messages, voicemails, and any other communication. Not to be overly cynical, but it’s good to be prepared in the event disagreements arise in the future.

More than anything, put the best interests, safety, and well-being of your kids first. You’re stressed, but remember, they’re likely as anxious as you, if not more.

It’s your job as a parent to set a good example and help them navigate treacherous waters. They look to you as an example. If you’re calm, rational, and considerate, they’re more likely to follow suit.

Now, more than ever, is the time to set aside bitterness and petty grievances, work together to protect your kids, and be kind.

Related Reading: Our Response to COVID-19

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