These are unprecedented and trying times. Just a month ago, some people questioned whether they were over preparing for the coronavirus by stocking up on paper towels. Now, we know there is no such thing as too many safeguards during a pandemic. Questions which seemed implausible are now an unfortunate reality for many parents:
- What should I do if the other parent does not practice social distancing?
- What happens if the other parent’s job increases the risk of contracting the coronavirus?
- Should I facilitate parenting time if the other parent resides out of state?
Since no family dynamic is the same, no custody case is either. Often, what applies in one custody case does not apply in another. However, there is an exception when advice comes from the Statewide Coordinating Judge for Matrimonial Cases in New York, who recently weighed in on co-parenting during the pandemic. Justice Sunshine cautioned parents that their behavior during the pandemic will be judged when the 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 dispositive at the time of final decision by a judge.”
Justice Sunshine continued:
“[h]ow they conduct themselves at parenting during a time of a pandemic crisis, one 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.”
Based on Justice Sunshine’s advice, parents are strongly encouraged to work out their differences and discuss a shared approach towards grocery shopping, social distancing, and visiting loved ones.
Try to be flexible. For instance, your parenting schedule likely assumed that your children were in school and that you were working outside the home. Now, you might need to juggle the struggles of working remotely with teaching common core math. Or, perhaps one parent is a medical professional and his/her hours have changed, or, his/her employment poses a risk to contracting COVID-19. These dynamics could lead to many challenges, and parents should be encouraged to make adjustments to parenting time to confront these hurdles. Some options include:
- Schedule make up time. Remember that summer is coming (we hope), and that the summer offers a great opportunity to schedule makeup parenting time.
- Be generous with virtual access (Skype, Zoom, Facetime, etc.) and do your best to make the time meaningful. For example, research games which could be played over Facetime, like Yahtzee.
- Communicate with the other parent by sending pictures and discussing the child’s emotional state.
- If it is appropriate, facilitate a visit while practicing social distancing.
If you cannot agree, you should not simply ignore a Court Order and deal with the consequences later. Instead, you should consult with an attorney, and discuss filing an application with the court to modify or suspend the parenting time altogether. For example, although it is hard to imagine how a hero on the front lines of the pandemic could be penalized, recently a Florida Court granted an application to modify an emergency room doctor’s parenting time during the coronavirus. In that case, the Florida court held “…in order to insulate and protect the best interests and health of the minor child… [custody must be temporarily changed].”(https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/13/us/custody-coronavirus-er-doctor-trnd/index.html)
If you find that you are unable to come to an agreement with the other parent, or simply need advice on how to speak with your ex regarding your concerns, our attorneys are ready to help. Call us at 631-337-1977, email us, or contact us for a telephone or video consultation.
However, at the end of the day, do not forget that there is a reason why so many athletes and politicians are remembered for how they acted when it mattered most. As a parent, this may be your defining moment.