7 Guidelines for Parents Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic

With the Governor's proclamation to close schools and restaurants to dine-in customers, now, more than ever, our children are a primary focus during these trying times. 

All parents are faced with the challenges of educating and occupying the growing minds of their children, and some are faced with the additional issues of childcare and nutrition.  Children with parents who share custody as a result of separation and divorce have even more considerations to make during this time. 

Adding to the myriad of concerns is that courts in North Carolina are closed with limited exceptions.  One of the unfortunate impacts is that North Carolina citizens lose the court system as a remedy to enforce court orders and prevent unjustified withholding in the absence of an emergency.  At a minimum, these issues will not be able to be addressed until after April 16, 2020.  Following the guidelines set out below and consulting with your attorney on the best way to address custody concerns is a great start to navigating these times.

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Seven Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic

 From the leaders of groups that deal with families in crisis: 

    • Susan Myres, President of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML)
    • Dr. Matt Sullivan, President of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC)
    • Annette Burns, AAML and Former President of AFCC
    • Yasmine Mehmet, AAML
    • Kim Bonuomo, AAML
    • Nancy Kellman, AAML
    • Dr. Leslie Drozd, AFCC
    • Dr. Robin Deutsch, AFCC
    • Jill Pea, Executive Director of AAML
    • Peter Salem, Executive Director of AFCC

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. Don't 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 concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances seriously.

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.

Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It's important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.

Republished with permission of Patricia Bernstein.

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Ward and Smith's Family Law attorneys understand that divorce and separation when children are involved is already a difficult and complicated process. The latest coronavirus outbreak adds yet another level of complexity to this challenging and stressful time. If you have questions or concerns, we are here to help. Contact one of our team members:

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© 2020 Ward and Smith, P.A. For further information regarding the issues described above, please contact Lauren Taylor Arnette Quinn.

This article is not intended to give, and should not be relied upon for, legal advice in any particular circumstance or fact situation. No action should be taken in reliance upon the information contained in this article without obtaining the advice of an attorney.

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