Parents: This is a truly difficult time. Talk about making being divorced/ separated from your other parent more difficult! Below are Seven Guidelines compiled by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers along with other tips.
These are just guidelines. We realize that every case presents unique circumstances. If in doubt, please consult with counsel before deviating from an existing Court Order.
1. BE HEALTHY:
Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.
2. BE MINDFUL:
Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave the news on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age appropriate.
3. BE COMPLIANT with court orders and custody agreements:
As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school were still in session. Above all, do not take advantage of general chaos in the world to withhold parenting time. You may think “The courts are overcrowded and won’t have time to deal with me now, if I do this.” Sanctions for not following court orders without a compelling reason can be very harsh.
4. BE CREATIVE:
At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.
5. BE TRANSPARENT:
Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.
6. BE GENEROUS:
Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.
7. BE UNDERSTANDING:
There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances. Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child.
For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.
AND THEN THERE ARE THE “WHAT Ifs”
WHAT IF YOUR CHILD IS SAYING HE OR SHE IS SCARED?
COMMUNICATE that to the other parent (not by blaming the other parent, simply by providing information) so that the other parent can take action to make the child feel better. There are many resources out there for talking to your children about the virus–the New York Times Parenting section is just one of them.* Try to remember to use age appropriate language, ask them what they have already heard. If your child is afraid, don’t dismiss their fears. Meet them on their level and share a time when you were scared as well.
Remember, if you approach these conversations from a place of fear and anxiety that will translate to your children. Lastly, given them age appropriate things they can do to help, like washing their hands and trying not to touch their face (or just to pick their nose less).
WHAT IF YOUR CHILD BECOMES SICK?
If your child is sick COMMUNICATE everything about your child’s illness to the other parent, in writing. Try to stick to email. Start one email string with all information about the child’s symptoms, what medication is given when, and how often. Keeping all this information in one place will let you both care for your child. Visits to doctors or urgent care should be communicated IMMEDIATELY to your co-parent, including all information, symptoms, diagnoses, and medications. Tell the other parent where you filled the prescriptions. SHARE the child’s prescriptions, and if the other parent asks, share the over-the-counter medications too. It’s not that easy to pick up another package of Day-Quil these days.
WHAT IF I NEED TO CONTACT MY ATTORNEY?
Attorneys are likely not seeing people in-office right now. Email or call and confirm all appointments you have scheduled. Email your attorney and ask how to best communicate with him or her for the near future. If you generally text with your attorney, he or she might be overwhelmed with texts right now. Communicating from a cell phone is difficult. Stick with email until you’re told differently. Leaving voice mails at the office might delay things. Most attorneys I know will try very hard to respond to emails within a few business hours.
WHAT IF I HAVE A COURT HEARING COMING UP AND DON’T KNOW WHAT’S GOING ON?
If you have an attorney, email the attorney and ask if anything has changed with your hearing. As of now, court is proceeding as usual in Pima County. However, this could change at any moment. If you don’t have an attorney, the telephone numbers for Pima County (Tucson and surrounding areas) judges are located here. Find your judge’s name and call that number to find out the status of your hearing from the judge’s assistant.
PLEASE DO NOT CALL JUDGES UNLESS YOUR HEARING IS SET WITHIN THE NEXT 1-3 DAYS. If you have a hearing farther out than 2-3 days, you need to wait. The judge’s offices simply won’t know yet what’s going to happen with a hearing that’s 2-3 weeks out.
Above all, try to BE KIND to your child’s other parent. These are stressful times and they impact everyone differently. Your child will never forget the way you treat their other parent and this is a wonderful time to show your child that when things are difficult it is important to meet that with kindness and compassion (and maybe a shared roll of toilet paper or two).
STAY SAFE AND STAY KIND!
The McCarthy Law Firm
*Dr. Sanjay Gupta offers advice to parents about children and social activities.