Many parents have questions about co-parenting during the coronavirus or COVID-19 crisis. See below for tips and answers to frequently asked questions about child custody, parenting time, and child support.
1. THE BASICS - TIPS
Prioritize your children's needs.
We are all dealing with disruption and anxiety in our lives. For kids, these disruptions can be particularly disorienting - especially when school might feel like the only respite from divorce and conflict or when kids are still getting used to the idea of divorcing parents and a new parenting schedule.
Give your children the gift of parental cooperation during this time, no matter how contentious your divorce, no matter what has happened in the past. Children need to see their parents working cooperatively, calmly, and with focus. They need stability.
Stay focused on the issues at hand. Disagreements are bound to occur - we are dealing with constantly changing circumstances. This is not the time to re-litigate issues from the past or solve all remaining divorce or custody issues. If the other parent tries to distract from the issue at hand, gently remind them, "I am hopeful we can put our differences aside for now to decide together how we should handle this."
The coronavirus pandemic has caused fear, stress, and anxiety in all of us. These emotions do not always bring out our best sides. These emotions are not usually conducive to co-parenting during normal times, and now they are sky high. Recognize this and accept it - in yourself and in the other parent. Try your best to be patient, kind, and compassionate. You are working towards a common goal: protecting your children.
If your custodial exchanges are typically done at school, accept the fact that you will need to adjust. If you or your child exhibits symptoms, accept the fact that you will need to discuss an action plan. If you need to coordinate virtual school and lessons, work together. Treat your ex how you would want to be treated. Set the tone.
2. FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
Are parents obligated to implement the same health practices in both households?
There is no legal duty to conduct the same parenting practices in both households unless stated in your agreement or court orders. That said, children benefit from consistency and routine, particularly during a crisis. Parents should do their best to instill a sense of safety and stability.
To avoid the conflict of negotiating the nitty-gritty with your ex, consider mutually agreeing to abide by pre-decided guidelines, such as the Los Angeles Department of Public Health and California Department of Public Health guidelines. Consider agreeing to regularly update the other parent of any symptoms of child or parent and agreeing to a "back up" plan in the event that either parent cannot care for the child and/or is exposed to coronavirus.
Can I withhold parenting time from the other parent given the state of emergency declared by all levels of government?
As of this date, neither our local, state, nor federal government have issued orders for a quarantine prohibiting non-emergency travel. At this point, you would likely not be justified in withholding parenting time unless you have a court order or very significant evidence that the other parent is symptomatic, has been exposed to the virus, or is putting the child in immediate risk of serious harm. A "gut feeling," general distrust, or hearing the parent cough or sneeze during a phone call is not enough.
Consider implementing certain guidelines for custodial exchanges: basic social distancing, agreeing for each parent t o take their temperature before custodial exchanges, returning all clothing washed and all items wiped down.
What if one parent is not obeying guidelines relating to the coronavirus?
This global pandemic is causing disruption to every aspect of daily life. This includes the Los Angeles Superior Court, which is closed to the public from March 17-19. It will re-open from March 20 - April 16 for essential, time-sensitive functions, including Domestic Violence Restraining Orders and Family Law Ex Parte Proceedings.
"Ex Parte" is the legal term for "emergency." Under normal circumstances, the Court interprets "emergency" quite strictly, and will likely interpret even more strictly under these circumstances. If the Courts were to treat this otherwise, many disgruntled parents would race to the courthouse to file ex partes because the other parent went to a restaurant or to the gym in the past weeks.
If you believe that your child is in immediate risk of harm, considering calling the police or consulting with an attorney about your options.
Are symptoms of the coronavirus considered an emergency? Do I need to consult my ex before getting medical intervention for our child?
Each person's own health circumstances are different and there are different schools of thought about what type of medical intervention is necessary and at what stage.
That said, if you believe your child may have been exposed to the coronavirus, the medical concern would likely rise to the level of an emergency decision justifying appropriate medical intervention. If your ex objects, you are likely justified in seeking medical intervention on behalf of your child in considering the current state of affairs. Consider consulting an attorney to discuss the specific facts of your case.
What if I cannot pay child support because coronavirus has impacted my ability to work?
You must comply with all child support orders until the Court orders otherwise or you reach an agreement with your ex. If possible, try to reach an amicable solution. Be forthright and offer to produce the financial documents showing your reduction in income. You can agree to temporarily reduce or suspend child support; if you do, make sure to get it in writing and file the agreement with the Court. If you cannot reach an agreement, file your request for modification of child support with the court sooner rather than later. Court orders for support can generally be made retroactive to the filing date.
Stay safe, stay healthy!
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