As a consequence of the #pandemic, we are getting lots of phone calls and emails from clients regarding how school cancellations, shelter-at-home rules, CDC guidelines, etc. affect #divorced parents and issues of child custody, visitation, child support, etc. Here are 7 tips for #divorced parents during the #COVID19 pandemic provided by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC). These guidelines certainly provide food for thought on how to minimize, to the extent possible, added stress on children of divorce. We would also urge clients to read the last part called Judicial Wisdom.
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. Do not 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 timesharing. 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.
Justice Jeffrey Sunshine, a family court judge in New York and the Statewide Coordinating Judge for Matrimonial Cases, offered his perspective as a jurist whose advice should be considered by all parents, no matter what state that they reside in. Justice Sunshine offers that parties should consider how their behavior will be viewed once this crisis is over? “Simply put, when you behave a certain way and there is a judge in the equation, how will a parent behave when I am no longer involved in their lives? With parents who are not obeying court orders, or where no orders exist are engaging in “self-help”, attorneys may and should remind them that the actions they take today and during this crisis could well be determinative or dipositive at the time of final decision by a judge.” The justice highlights the important factor under New York law of providing access to the other parent and it is a common element in most jurisdictions.
Justice Sunshine goes on to write that, “[h]ow they conduct themselves at parenting during a time of a pandemic crisis, one of which we have never before seen, will shape their relationship with each other as divorced parents in the future, the relationship they have with their children and most importantly the relationship that their children have with them….[if] parents do not conduct themselves appropriately and sensibly, their children will remember throughout their lives how they acted and so will the judge deciding the case. I listen carefully and remember the children who have spoken to me during the hundreds of in-camera interviews I have done in the past 21 years. I hope over the next few years children will be telling me how positively their parents behaved to make sure they were safe, allowed access by technology if illness or the risks of travel prevented access, and that both of their parents put their differences aside and they did it for me.”