+
Family

Co-parenting in the coronavirus pandemic: A family law scholar’s advice

Co-parenting in the coronavirus pandemic: A family law scholar’s advice

As millions of people around the world practice social distancing and self-quarantine, they are separating themselves from everyone but their immediate family members. However, for divorced or separated parents who share custody of their children, the definition of "immediate family" isn't obvious.

Already, family lawyers around the country are being inundated with calls from anxious parents worried about returning children to co-parents who are not willing to practice social distancing. They are contemplating keeping their child away from the other parent, in violation of a shared-custody agreement – but wonder how courts will react.


I have been a family law professor for almost 13 years. I have written numerous articles about custody and visitation. Until recently, I never even contemplated how these traditional family law concepts might change in response to a pandemic. Few custody and child-support court orders will have provisions covering how to share parenting in a pandemic – although they may become common in the future.

This is uncharted legal territory. The federal government, many states and even municipal governments around the country have declared states of emergency.

With many family courts closed, divorced or separated parents will have to make up arrangements as they go along. My strong advice is that parents should not try and equate the COVID-19 pandemic with other types of emergencies that may be covered in their custody agreements.

Instead, they should seek to work together – however difficult that may be – to provide for the best interests of their children, and to preserve a sense of fairness and equity, both emotionally and legally, however custody is shared.

Finding common ground

As workplaces shut down or convert employees to working from home, many parents may find opportunities to adjust schedules so the child can be cared for by one parent or the other, rather than bring in the care of sitters, nannies or members of the extended family.

Public health experts say it's best to limit social circles to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

Parents should try to be a team in this situation, even if it is difficult. This is not the time to keep a minute accounting of how many overnights the other parent has had or to argue that the current school closures should be treated like summer vacation. Avoid gamesmanship.

Talk through concerns and be open to new arrangements. Reassure the other parent that any current reduction in their parenting time will be made up – eventually – and that in the meantime, they will have increased phone calls, video chats and other forms of non-physical contact.

I do recommend keeping records, including contacting the other parent in writing (by text or email), explaining what your concerns are about the current custody plan, and proposing a reasonable solution. It will be very helpful to encourage the other parent's thoughts and suggestions on the proposal. Any coronavirus custody arrangement should accommodate the concerns and interests of both parents.

It is stressful for everyone – parents and children alike – to live through this pandemic. Children don't need the added worry of parental fights. They badly need more stability and reassurance – especially about their contact and connection with those who love them the most.

Judges look out for the kids

It may not be easy to come to agreement. Every relationship – and ex-relationship – is different. Some couples may be used to sorting things out in court. That is less possible now than during normal times.

Mostfamilycourts are closed for everything but emergency matters, which almost certainly do not include custody disputes. Of course, after the crisis passes, the courts will reopen.

At that time, I have little doubt that judges will be pleased with parents who have worked together to identify their children's best interests, and taken steps to protect their health and safety. And I expect judges will be furious at parents who put their own interests before their children's, and refused to cooperate with a willing and reasonable parent.


images.theconversation.com


Disobeying a court order is a big unknown

If agreement is really impossible, the path gets much more precarious. Shared-custody agreements and orders were crafted when the present crisis was unimaginable, but violating them is risky – even if the reason sounds solid. Judges may reduce visitation and custody for parents who interfere with their ex-partner's custodial rights.

Parents who fear for their children's health may be willing to take their chances and hope that when this is all over, the family court will agree that their decision was reasonable. It is a big gamble – and regardless of the outcome is likely to involve significant legal expense and time fighting in court.


images.theconversation.com


Seeking help to settle disputes

There are alternatives to conflict and animosity, and waiting for courts to reopen and sort things out.

Many family courtmediators remain available to help couples work out pandemic related custody issues. Although the specific circumstances of the coronavirus pandemic are unprecedented, parental disputes about children's health and safety are common. Mediators are well versed in these issues and can help families reach reasonable agreements.

Mediated agreements – even attempts at agreements – provide a contemporary and largely objective record of the parents' thoughts, circumstances and concerns. That record may help judges sort out who was being reasonable and accommodating in seeking custody changes, and who was not.

In the effort to stem the spread of the coronavirus, Americans are repeatedly reminded that the decisions they make today will have direct consequences on our individual and collective well-being in the future. This warning is not specifically directed at divorced or separated parents, but it is just as applicable.

The custody choices parents make in the next few weeks affect not only the immediate health and welfare of their children and families, but may also affect their future custody arrangements. Courts rarely look kindly on parents who put their needs before their children's. In the aftermath of a pandemic, it safe to assume this will be even more true.

The circumstances surrounding many custody disputes have changed drastically in the past week, but as always, the safest bet is cooperation.

Marcia Zug is Professor of Family Law, University of South Carolina

This article originally appeared on The Conversation. You can read it here.

All illustrations are provided by Soosh and used with permission.

I have plenty of space.

This article originally appeared on 04.09.16


It's hard to truly describe the amazing bond between dads and their daughters.

Being a dad is an amazing job no matter the gender of the tiny humans we're raising. But there's something unique about the bond between fathers and daughters.

Most dads know what it's like to struggle with braiding hair, but we also know that bonding time provides immense value to our daughters. In fact, studies have shown that women with actively involved fathers are more confident and more successful in school and business.

Keep ReadingShow less
Identity

This blind chef wore a body cam to show how she prepares dazzling dishes.

How do blind people cook? This "Masterchef" winner leans into her senses.

Image pulled from YouTube video.

Christine Ha competes on "Masterchef."

This article originally appeared on 05.26.17


There is one question chef Christine Ha fields more than any other.

But it's got nothing to do with being a "Masterchef" champion, New York Times bestselling author, and acclaimed TV host and cooking instructor.

The question: "How do you cook while blind?"

Keep ReadingShow less

Surrendered mama dog reunited with puppies after she refused to leave the corner.

People surrender animals to Humane Societies for all kinds of reasons, but many do it because they don't feel like they can properly care for their animals anymore. It could be that they have to move to a home that doesn't allow pets or they lost a job, making caring for an animal difficult.

Two small dogs were surrendered to Marin Humane Society in Novato, California and the female had recently given birth to puppies. It's not clear if the previous owners felt like they couldn't care for both the older dogs and the puppies so they just kept the puppies, or if something else prompted the drop-off.

Either way, this mama dog was in distress after being left at the shelter without her babies. She refused to leave the corner of the large kennel and just looked so sad. The employees felt for the sweet mama dog and decided to do some detective work to see if they could figure out where the puppies were located.

Keep ReadingShow less

Gordon Ramsay at play... work.

This article originally appeared on 04.22.15


Gordon Ramsay is not exactly known for being nice.

Or patient.

Or nurturing.

On his competition show "Hell's Kitchen," he belittles cooks who can't keep up. If people come to him with their problems, he berates them. If someone is struggling to get something right in the kitchen, he curses them out.

Keep ReadingShow less

This article originally appeared on 01.27.20


From 1940 to 1945, an estimated 1.3 million people were deported to Auschwitz, the largest complex of Nazi concentration camps. More than four out of five of those people—at least 1.1 million people—were murdered there.

On January 27, 1945, Soviet forces liberated the final prisoners from these camps—7,000 people, most of whom were sick or dying. Those of us with a decent public education are familiar with at least a few names of Nazi extermination facilities—Auschwitz, Dachau, Bergen-Belsen—but these are merely a few of the thousands (yes, thousands) of concentration camps, sub camps, and ghettos spread across Europe where Jews and other targets of Hitler's regime were persecuted, tortured, and killed by the millions.

Keep ReadingShow less
Health

What I realized about feminism after my male friend was disgusted by tampons at a party.

"After all these years, my friend has probably forgotten, but I never have."

Photo by Josefin on Unsplash

It’s okay men. You don’t have to be afraid.

This article originally appeared on 08.12.16


Years ago, a friend went to a party, and something bothered him enough to rant to me about it later.

And it bothered me that he was so incensed about it, but I couldn't put my finger on why. It seemed so petty for him to be upset, and even more so for me to be annoyed with him.

Recently, something reminded me of that scenario, and it made more sense. I'll explain.

Keep ReadingShow less