Parents who are sharing custody of their children should treat this crisis as an opportunity to co-parent and work together to do what is in their children’s best interests and safe for their families, rather than taking advantage of the other parent. Here are four guidelines for parents sharing custody during the crisis.
- STAY PHYSICALLY HEALTHY
Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines for staying safe and healthy. If any family members show symptoms of the virus such as coughing and high temperature, they should follow local health orders and quarantine. It goes without saying that in this situation the usual parenting plan should be suspended until everyone is safe and healthy. However, we know from experience as family lawyers that some parents still selfishly insist on “their time” even when their children have a fever and are too sick to be transported. Remember that time can always be made up. Parents should be reasonable and exercise compassion and common sense. It is important for parents to keep each other informed about any symptoms of contagious illness of a parent, children or other household member.
- STAY MENTALLY HEALTHY
You can be informed and stay calm at the same time. While children are resilient, protect them from your anxieties and fears. Don’t leave the news on 24/7. Provide them with age-appropriate information. For children and adults alike, the pandemic of 2020 will leave lasting memories. Hopefully those memories will be of families pulling together.
- MAINTAIN THE STATUS QUO
This crisis is an opportunity to co-parent. In many jurisdictions, there are orders from the family court administration that custody orders remain in full force as if school remains in session. [Click her to read here the standing Order from Ventura County Family Court]. The idea is that parenting plans should, as a rule, not be changed. Generally, if there are two healthy households there is no reason why custody exchanges should not take place as normal as long as the custody exchanges are safe and comply with local health orders. There may be circumstances that mandate a change, for example, if an Order requires a custody exchange in an enclosed public place that would violate a local or state order. There may also have to be adjustments if an existing order requires supervised visitation. If parents agree to make a temporary change to their parenting plan, they should reduce it to a written agreement. Parents should note that for the duration of the crisis, most Court systems are closed or operating on a limited basis. If there is a dispute, parents may have to resort to other forms of dispute resolution such as mediation or private judging.
- BE FLEXIBLE AND COMPASSIONATE
Everyone’s lives have been disrupted. Stay in place orders, the closure of schools and public places and increased financial burdens on families will require parents to be flexible and make accommodations. Parents should act with compassion and in the best interests of their children. Parents should communicate with each to discuss whether they need to make changes. Would it be a good idea to have more virtual visitation using platforms like Zoom or facetime? If children are home from school, should they follow a parenting plan which is more similar to a vacation schedule? What accommodations should be made for financial hardships suffered by parents paying or receiving support. Any such adjustments should be reduced to a written agreement and, preferably, filed with the Court. Family court judges expect reasonable accommodations in highly unusual circumstances. After this is all over, judges may make decisions about your parenting plan based on how you acted in this crisis.
© 2020 Warren R. Shiell. Warren R Shiell is a Los Angeles Divorce and Family Law attorney. This is for informational purposes only and shall not constitute legal advice. For more information visit www.la-familylaw.com