Quarantines and Custody Agreements: How Do Divorced and Separated Parents Handle Coronavirus?
Santa Clara County has been subject to a “Shelter in Place” order since March 17th. This has prompted many of our clients to reach out an ask whether and/or how this will affect their custody arrangement. This is a particularly tricky question for parents who live in different counties, or even states.
According to the linked article on Today.com, it appears that most parents are trying to maintain their schedules, to the extent possible. The family law attorneys interviewed for the article suggest that the “first and foremost concern should be the health of your family.” We agree. In California, children have a right to frequent and continuous contact with both parents. In most cases, it is in children’s best interests to continue to follow the custody arrangement in place in order to accomplish this. This is particulary true when children’s routines have already been disrupted by school closures, cancellation of sports, etc. However, in situations where a family member in either household is sick, or if either household has older members or those otherwise at greater risk, it might be a good idea to temporarily modify the custody arrangement, in order to protect the health of your families. We also believe that this would be applicable in custody arrangements where the parents live in separate counties or states. The risk of traveling out of county could be too great, particularly when either household includes at risk members. In the even that custody arrangements need to be modified, our best advice is for parents to work together to come up with alternate options, such as facetiming and make up time during the summer months or as soon as the Shelter in Place order is lifted.
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and Association of Family and Conciliation Courts have released a joint statement setting forth guidelines for parents who are divorced or separated and sharing custody of children during the COVID-19 Pandemic. https://cdn.ymaws.com/sccba.site-ym.com/resource/collection/8D5BD517-FD51-42C9-BE94-222AE9D82675/20200319165747719__1_.pdf
The statement includes the following suggestions:
- Be Healthy. This includes complying with all CDC and local and state guidelines and to stay informed.
- Be Mindful. The suggestion here is to be honest with your children about what is going on, but also to be mindful about what they are being exposed to, including careless comments or a non-stop stream of media coverage intended for adults.
- Be Compliant. To the extent possible, comply with custody arrangements and court orders.
- Be Creative. As important as it is for consistency to be maintained, some modifications to custody and visitation schedules will likely be necessary, given that children are out of school, many parents are working from home and/or working more hours or are out of work completely. Be creative in coming up with ways to encourage contact with a parent who is not going to see a child as he/she normally would.
- Be Transparent. Be honest with the other parent about possible or confirmed exposure to the virus.
- Be Generous. This is not the time to worry about how has “more” time or whether things are “equal.” If one parent has to miss out on time with a child, makeup time should be provided if possible. The guideline makes clear that family law judges will expect “reasonable accommodations” and the failure of either parent to do so will be considered in future proceedings.
- Be Understanding. With respect to child support, it is likely that in many cases, paying parents will suffer financial hardship and may be unable to pay in full, or at all. The guidelines suggest that the paying parent try to pay as much as he/she can, even if it is not the full amount. As for the the parent who is receiving payments, he/she should try be accommodating and remember that this is temporary.
If you are struggling or have questions with regard to maintaining your custody and visitation arrangement during these difficult times, the attorneys at Argyris Mah are available to provide you with valuable information and advice as to how best to proceed. Please call our firm at 408-214-6366 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org in order to schedule a free 20 minute telephone consultation.