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Coronavirus's Impact on Child Custody

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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 years.

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 government agencies.

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.

If the 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 environment.

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.


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