COVID poses special challenges to divorced families

As with seemingly everything else in 2020, COVID-19 safety and protocols are now a part of a divorce. The premise often involves situations where a parent is an essential worker who worked around sick patients, or they had a greater potential for exposure because they returned to work through the ordinary course of opening the economy.

In other cases, it is a matter of the parents disagreeing over the potential risks of contracting the virus.

Having children in a hybrid school program and having children attend school remotely is also posing special problems for parents.  For those parents working at home, there is the disruption of attending to children in on-line programs, helping them focus and still getting one’s own work done.  For other parents, having to go to work while children are at home is causing problems for childcare and supervision.  When schools change from in-person to remote learning due to outbreaks of COVID-19, well formulated plans have to be discarded.  It helps if divorced parents are able to model courtesy and respect for one another during these trying times.

Judge says no mask, no visit

There have been instances in the news where one parent refuses to wear a mask. This led a judge in Florida to deny the mother visitation with her child after determining that the child was asthmatic and, therefore, at-risk. It subsequently prompted complaints that the judge and others are using safety as a premise for overstepping their jurisdiction and even showing bias.  

COVID-19 and parenting plans

Stay-at-home orders are not justifications for denying visitation or disobeying custody agreements, but parents with joint custody may disagree over the solutions (or if there is a problem). There are several potential issues:

  • While children are typically at lower risk, some have preexisting conditions that make them particularly vulnerable to the virus.
  • There were also instances where circumstances prompted one parent to weaponize a court order.
  • Parents refuse to follow the parenting plan, claiming it endangers the child’s well-being or vulnerable family members.
  • Parents do not see children in-person because their job puts them in a position of endangering the children.
  • A parent loses their job, was furloughed or took a pay cut, making it difficult to honor their spousal or child support agreements.
  • Parents who live in different cities or states may not feel comfortable with them or the children traveling via public transport between the parents’ homes.

Finding a solution

Scientists will eventually find an antidote for this virus, making all these concerns moot. But until that time, parents will need to have an arrangement in place that enables the children to see and talk to both parents if that is in their best interests. 

The parents can create certain ground rules regarding exposure risks. They can discuss who can see the children, whether there is a pod for friends and their work situation.

A mediator, perhaps the one who handled the divorce, can help develop a plan to keep the family safe and happy. Those with questions about a plan or an ex-spouse who do not follow the parental agreement may need to speak to a knowledgeable family law attorney.

Those clients currently litigating or mediating a divorce should also discuss COVID protocols with their attorney to develop a plan that the judge will ultimately approve when finalizing the divorce.

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