While COVID-19 has impacted families everywhere, it has had a particularly devastating effect on families living in two separate households. In some cases, COVID-9 has exacerbated tensions that existed prior to the public health crisis. In other cases, parents who have traditionally made child-related decisions together can no longer do so. Our office has received many questions from parents asking about what their legal rights and responsibilities are to the other parent while also ensuring that their children remain as safe as possible.
The probate and family courts, which adjudicated these disputes in the past, are only open for emergencies. Beyond restraining orders, however, it is unclear what constitutes an emergency. Is it an emergency when one parent will not allow the other parent to see the child because of COVID-19? Is it an emergency when one parent is not paying child support to the other? What if someone is laid off from work? Even for families living in the same household, parents frequently differ on appropriate precautionary measures, such as what constitutes social isolation, whether to order food delivered, and how frequently to go grocery shopping. Imagine these disputes when families are in different households and under significant stress.
While what constitutes an emergency may be nebulous, what is clear is that parents, to the extent that they can, should follow existing parenting plans. For a parent concerned about the other parent potentially exposing the child to COVID-19, keep in mind that any decisions made around parenting time during the crisis will be reviewed by the court. The court will want to see that a parent acted reasonably: contacting a doctor for an expert opinion, ensuring that the parent who is not seeing the child will have significant time over Facetime, Zoom, or another social media platform, and arranging for “make up” time when COVID-19 ends. To the extent possible, parents should also continue to pay child support and, if laid off, they should file a modification as soon as possible. In short, parents must make parenting decisions based on what is in the child’s best interest.
The good news is that some parties, who were unwilling to compromise, have found that an agreement that only gives them some of what they want may still be better than waiting for an uncertain court date. Lawyers are actively working together to submit proposals to the court in order to move cases along so people can get the relief they need. It is our hope that this spirit of cooperation between parties and lawyers in acrimonious cases will result in better outcomes for our clients.
If you are looking for counsel for a family law issue, contact us today to arrange a free consultation with Attorney Biscardi!