The Coronavirus pandemic has created child custody & access emergencies. Some parents are not giving access to the other parent under the pretext of real and fabricated Covid-19 concerns.
The Coronavirus Crisis is a public health emergency; however, this is not an excuse to make a mess with parenting arrangements or court orders. It’s not about hurting other parents by cutting his/her access time; it’s time to keep everyone safe with social distancing, not with family distancing.
Sadly, when people get stressed, they can act irrationally and not in their own and their child’s best interests. Here are some custody and access issues we are dealing with at the moment.
If One Parent is Not Allowing Regular Access Because of the Covid-19 Pandemic
Some parents are not allowing regular access because he/she is worried about children being exposed during the pandemic. These actions may be seen in a few ways:
- This is a violation of a valid court order;
- This could be prudent if the other parent is irresponsible and not following social distancing guidelines, but one must be very careful making this conclusion without proof
- This could be the acts of an unhinged parent using the situation to exact revenge, and the courts will deal with these cases very harshly when we get back to normal.
This is a public health emergency, and we are acting individually to keep society safer. Your ex-spouse is not the danger; it is irresponsible group gatherings and failing to wash your hands. God help you if you use this crisis to alienate your child from one of their parents under the pretense of social distancing.
Government health officials are asking for social distancing, not family distancing. Self-help measures are always frowned upon by judges and even more so when we are facing a global crisis. The other parent who is getting access should make sure they adopt social distancing, hygiene, and sanitization protocols.
If a Child or Parent Must be Quarantined or If One Parent is Diagnosed with the Coronavirus, but Still Wants His/Her Parenting Time
Then the other parent must do everything they can to assist in contact over the internet through Facetime or something similar.
Since it involves a danger to the child(ren), the infected parent must act in the best interest of the child and stay isolated from them and everyone else.
If A Child is Diagnosed with the Coronavirus
This scenario involves not only the best interest of the child but also the child may become a carrier of the virus to other parents and his/her home. In this scenario, it is best that both parents communicate about the dangers involved in access arrangements and should compromise on the makeup access time in the future, but, again, don’t forget to document the communication and decision.
If One Parent is Defacto’s Primary Caregiver to the Child and the Other Parent is Off Work due to the Pandemic, Parent with off Work Asking for Extra Time with His/Her Child
Since the daycare and schools are closed, the primary caregiver parent might be worried that if she/he allows extra time to the other parent with the child, it could set a new status quo that could be used against him/her later in proceedings. If there is no option to avoid this, make sure it is documented through your counsels that this is only because of an extraordinary situation and agree on a date when this arrangement will end. We can assume the other parent will go back to work, but people, for God’s sake if your child is spending quality time with the other parent that could be a good thing.
How to Deal with an Extended March Break Due to Coronavirus?
It depends on the court order or agreement and varies case by case basis. If the court order or agreement says that both parents will equally share holidays, including March break, then it’s easy to resolve this issue by evenly dividing the time between both parents. But if the order or agreement says that children will spend one week with the father and two uninterrupted weeks with the mother, then the parties should communicate and resolve the issue in consultation with their counsels in the best interest of the children. They should also document clearly that this arrangement is applicable only in these extraordinary circumstances.
Family law lawyers have a role to play in this, and they can significantly impact how their clients act and encourage them to be civic, reasonable & compassionate as opposed to angry spouses. Be aware, with the courts’ closure, there could be an incentive to write lots of serious letters. These letters, for the most part, eat up the client’s funds. Ask for ethical behaviour and compromise. If one side is being reckless, then bring an emergency motion and cut out the chatter about nothing.
I want to request my colleagues in family law practice to adopt a collaborative approach to help out our clients in this challenging time and to reduce a backlog for the court system, which will be under tremendous pressure, once the crisis is over.
Remember, we are judged by how we act in times of stress, not by how nice we are when everything is amazing. Be kind to each other, protect yourself, and call us if you need the hammer when people are taking advantage of you.