When parents in California get a
divorce, they have to create a Parenting Plan and have it signed off by the judge
on their case. The Parenting Plan will address
legal and physical custody and who gets the kids and when. Once a Parenting Plan is in place, California
parents are expected to follow it, however, in many cases the courts encourage
parents to be flexible when it’s in the best interests of the children
and when it simply helps everybody out.
Whether you have since adhered to a strict custody and visitation schedule
up until the coronavirus outbreak, or if you and your ex were very accommodating
with each other, COVID-19 may have thrown everything out of whack –
and that may be an understatement!
At a time when essential workers are expected to work to protect California’s
infrastructure and when “non-essential workers” are ordered
to STAY HOME unless they’re getting gasoline, groceries, or prescriptions, existing
Parenting Plans have been challenged to the core.
Parents Are Having to Compromise
Parents who have been practicing “parallel parenting,” a form
of co-parenting after divorce where formerly married parents strictly
adhere to the Parenting Plan and limit communication are suddenly having
to communicate more and be flexible with each other, often for the first time in
Parents are also having to bend to meet the best interests of their children’s
health, which sometimes means relinquishing custody during “their
days” and not seeing their children for weeks (if not longer) on
end in order to slow down the spread of COVID-19.
In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, parents are having discussions
about child custody modifications. They’re talking and agreeing
to temporarily modify their custody agreements until the global health
crisis is under control and no longer poses such a threat on the public’s health.
In many situations, the decision to modify the standing custody arrangement
has to do with parents who are “essential workers,” people
who work in healthcare and are on the front, fighting the virus on the ground.
In cases where the parents have healthy co-parenting relationships, making
changes has been a smooth process, but for parents who are on bad terms,
flexibility isn’t an option and they have to contact their divorce
attorneys for help. The anxiety of such types of parents is only worsened
by a family court system that has virtually shut down like other non-essential
Since the coronavirus pandemic, family law offices across the nation have
been dealing with child custody modifications every day. We’re sure
that aside from spouses wanting to divorce because the quarantine drove
them there, child custody modifications will be the other top case seen
in divorce attorneys’ offices once the health crisis calms down
and people are allowed to go back to their normal routines.
Distance is Part of the Custody Challenge
While having a parent who is a healthcare worker certainly increases the
risk of a child being infected with COVID-19, the other issue affecting
custody during the pandemic is
distance. When divorced parents typically exchange children at school or workplaces,
that becomes an issue when these places are all closed by the government’s orders.
parents live in different cities, they run the risk of violating shelter-in-place orders if they travel
too far to pick-up or drop-off their child. What about those parents who
live in different states? Most parents err on the side of caution and
avoid taking their child to an airport, which can increase a child’s
risk of infection due to crowds. Plus, few parents want to put their child
on a plane alone during such uncertain times.
Medical Reasons is Another Challenge
We can’t ignore the fact that parents have medical reasons for switching
up custody during the pandemic. Is your ex making Facebook posts that
the coronavirus is a conspiracy, a hoax, or overly-inflated? Is your ex
serious about social distancing or are they ignoring the president’s
orders and mingling with people in close quarters?
What about your ex’s new partner? Do they work in healthcare or are
they not careful about leaving the house, socializing, disinfecting, and
frequent handwashing? These are all legitimate questions and it makes
sense that parents are asking them during the pandemic.
Maybe you’re not worried about your ex-husband or wife exposing your
children to risk, but what about variables that you can’t control
when you’re not there? It’s only natural for single parents
to wonder if their kids are safe when they can’t be there to control
The Legal Obstacle
During the coronavirus pandemic, parents can’t ignore the legal obstacle.
Most family courts are closed and are only taking emergency cases, such
as those involving
domestic violence and child endangerment. Meaning, even if parents wanted to petition the
court for a custody modification, they wouldn’t get anywhere because
the courts are closed.
Some states are suggesting that parents stick to the existing custody orders
while others are asking parents to cooperate with each other. In some
states, divorce lawyers are encouraging their clients to utilize FaceTime,
Skype, or Zoom and for parents without custody to seek “makeup time”
when the health crisis is all over.
Unfortunately, there will be parents who will weaponize COVID-19 to bar
the other parent from seeing their children. Legal recourse, however,
may have to be on hold until the pandemic is over and the family courts
resume normal operations.