The spread of COVID-19 has brought many unexpected changes to families all over the country. Schools have closed their doors, parents are working from home, children are unable to go play with their friends — the typical household dynamic is different now.
This change has been especially difficult for divorced parents who are trying to navigate shared custody of their children. Between negotiating new schedules, canceling vacations, and having to agree upon new rules for keeping their children safe from exposure to the virus, this time can cause a lot of disagreement between co-parents.
Here are some tips for communicating with your ex-spouse and your child regarding shared custody during the coronavirus pandemic.
It is imperative that you keep yourself updated on the latest information and guidelines set by the CDC. Keep an eye out for symptoms of the virus between yourself, your children, and anyone else in your home. As you obtain more knowledge about the virus, keep transparent communication with your children to ensure they know how to protect themselves by washing their hands and practicing social distancing.
While you do not want to scare your child, it’s important for you and your ex to stand as a united front that takes this matter seriously. Try to limit their exposure to media outlets who may cause a sense of panic, and instead let them know that both you and their other parent are making every effort to protect them, and they can ask any questions if they are afraid.
Look for Updates that Affect Your Custody Agreement
As our communities respond to the COVID-19 crisis many daily routines are interrupted or stopped completely. Schools have closed and parents want to know how this affects the terms of their custody agreement. Chief Judge George F. Hutchinson, III of the Gwinett Judicial Circuit released the following statement to clarify Domestic Relations Custody Orders pertaining to School and Holiday Visitation.
“March 24, 2020
Questions have arisen with respect to the interpretation of child visitation schedules during the school closings necessitated by the Coronavirus/COVID-19. In an effort to help the Family Law Bar advise your clients, the Gwinnett Superior Court Judges have consulted with each other and unanimously agreed that in all cases in which child visitation is governed by a school calendar, visitation will continue to be governed by the previously published school calendar regardless of any break or homeschooling necessitated by the current public health crisis. Spring Break, holiday, and summer visitations will continue to be governed by the controlling school calendar in the manner stated in the applicable custody order in each case.”
Contact your divorce attorney before making any assumptions about how to interpret your custody agreement.
Honor Custody Agreements, but Be Flexible
Remember, custody agreements that have already been set in place do NOT change due to the pandemic. Try to keep the child’s routine as normal as possible when it comes to splitting time between parents. According to the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts(AFCC), some jurisdictions have standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though they were still in session.
That being said, if you are having to work more to deal with the crisis and your ex is working from home or with fewer hours, consider allowing your children to stay with their other parent during the day if everyone is open to a new routine. Additionally, if one parent is unable to see their children as often during this time for whatever reason, encourage them to engage with the children through Facetime, Skype, regular phone calls, etc. It’s important that both parents are empathetic and understanding with each other as schedules and circumstances change. Both parents should cooperate to make the experience as pleasant and pain-free as possible for the entire family.
Prioritize the Child
One thing that has not changed when it comes to co-parenting is the need to keep the children’s best interests as the number one priority. Avoid using this crisis as an excuse to breach any preset parenting agreements, and instead focus on what makes sense for the children to keep them happy, assured, safe, and unaware of any drama that may occur between you and your ex.
At Andersen, Tate & Carr, our attorneys are dedicated to reaching the best possible outcome for our clients. Trinity Hundredmark heads our Domestic Relations Division. She is an experienced attorney with more than a decade of experience representing clients. For more information, or to request a case evaluation, contact our law office at 1-770-467-3205.