Are you in a Custody Battle During Covid?
Courts are asking parents to be reasonable and stay calm. They are looking for realistic solutions. No one has a pandemic clause in their custody agreement. There is no correct way to co-parent during this time. Parents need to communicate with each other. If changes need to occur, make the request and explain why. Do you want to change the schedule to reduce travel or potential exposure? Are you concerned about travel between houses because rest stops are closed? Is the third party supervisor no longer available because of social distancing?
As parents talk about the physical custody schedule, they need to consider other aspects of the parenting relationship. The parents might need to be on the same schedule about remote schooling. They may need to incorporate Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom to have contact with children if they go longer between exchanges.
Front-line workers are facing this custody crisis even more. Disputes are arising about whether front-line workers should retain custody of their minor children. Courts across the country are dealing with this issue. The court response are varied. Many are saying the increased risk of exposure to coronavirus is not enough to suspend custody rights. Some courts are modifying or suspending custody because of increased risk. Where courts are not open, parents are exercising self-help. A parent exercising self-help must be able to justify their reasoning to a court when it reopens; the parent should keep in mind a judge will likely hear numerous similar cases. It is unclear how the judges will react when courts reopen. Some frontline workers are voluntarily relinquishing custody. It is unclear if these parents will be eligible for make-up time.
When it comes to addressing the pandemic directly, the topics become more complicated. Parents need to openly discuss their social distancing habits. The parents should be on the same page about how they explain the stay-at-home policies to the children. There needs to be a sharing of information if the child is exhibiting signs of anxious behavior and what those behaviors are. Is the child cranky, lashing out, sad, or tired? These behaviors might be different in each household. There may be more than what meets the eye.
Courts that have an electronic filing system for custody matters might be easier to navigate, especially if the filing system forwards the documents to the judge. In these instances, court requests about custody can get to a judge in a socially distant society. Courts where requests were hand delivered or mailed to the judges were likely harder to navigate as the courts shutdown. All of a sudden, there was no way to contact judges.
Some courts have adjusted. The adjustment has occurred with various degrees of ease. Virtual or real drop-off boxes have been created. Settlement and status conferences are occurring via conference or video call. Cases are beginning to move forward again. Courts are exploring virtual hearings. Each jurisdiction is providing a different level of access to the family court.
Some courts have not adjusted. Some courts remain closed with no ability to request relief, which could create a backlog of cases that seems insurmountable. On the other hand, it could force parents to find a solution because there is not intervention available.
As society remains shut down or begins to reopen, the issues surrounding custody cases will continue to change. Co-parents will have to navigate these issues thoughtfully. Hopefully, as governments issue stay-at-home orders and modifications, they will specifically address custody orders. Hopefully, courts will continue to issue guidance about custody during pandemics. As this moves forward, parents need to stay calm and be thoughtful, you may want to consider getting help from an expert.
If you have concerns, you may consider hiring an expert.
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Article above from jurist.org