As a New Jersey family law attorney, I’m noticing a new trend in the calls I receive from parents who no longer live together. Not surprisingly, the coronavirus crisis is impacting both custody and parenting time arrangements. The fact that court orders are in place doesn’t necessarily equate to compliance. Even divorced and separated parents who amicably agreed to the days and hours they would share their children – are having second thoughts.
The challenges come from a few vantage points. Maybe mom or dad works as a doctor or nurse and regularly comes in contact with COVID-19 patients. Their exposure is very real even though experts suggest that younger children aren’t hit as hard from the deadly virus. However, schools are closed for a reason. There’s always the risk they can become carriers.
It’s a different world and one that none of us have experienced. A mother called me the other day to tell me her son didn’t want to leave her side. The ten-year-old went so far as to tell his father he was afraid he would die if he left the house.
Although that wasn’t the case in this particular matter, some parents are taking advantage of the coronavirus crisis. Psychological manipulation is a cruel form of parental alienation in a climate already filled with uncertainty. It’s not only frustrating. It’s downright harmful to the children.
Recently, a child protection worker shared a story that also hit home. The father was concerned because the couple’s daughter has a predisposition to pulmonary issues. Nonetheless, the mother wanted to exercise her scheduled parenting time. The result was an emergent court hearing with the judge ruling on the side of caution.
In case you wondered, technology is playing a big part when it comes to everything from child protection services and court intervention. Caseworkers use it to check in on some cases, and the court conducts hearings via audio conferences. Supervised visitations are also facilitated by virtual videoconferencing to keep children in contact with their parents.
These are unprecedented times when it comes to navigating custody and parenting time requirements. If a family member becomes sick with coronavirus, the whole household is expected to go into quarantine. What happens if the period of isolation just so happens to interfere with the parenting time schedule?
It would be nice to think that a pandemic would make people more understanding and flexible. However, the coronavirus has created an atmosphere that has brought domestic violence cases to an all-time peak. If you’re questioning non-compliance with any type of custody or parenting time order, you should really speak with an experienced family law attorney.
When I speak to parents who share their children in separate homes, I view myself as the voice of reason. Like everyone else, I am hoping this pandemic passes sooner than later. I’m also fully aware that children need the love and affection of both their mothers and fathers.
Based on the circumstances, it may be feasible for parents to agree to virtual visits. If in-person parenting time schedules are postponed, alternative dates should be used to make-up time. Meanwhile, I also think parents must know that the court could still hold them in contempt for violating existing custody and parenting times orders.
One last thing. Child support orders don’t just go away because of a pandemic or stay at home orders. For parties on both sides, the fear is real as far as making ends meet. Parents owed back child support may be grateful for one piece of news. The CARES ACT doesn’t suspend payment for delinquent child support when it comes to federal stimulus checks.
As it now stands, the coronavirus crisis has changed the tenure of my family law practice. These days, I’m counseling clients on what gives rise to emergent hearings. None of us know what our new “normal” will be. However, I’ll continue to help people make the best of their lives one step at a time. And, if you’re someone who thinks you’ll benefit for a complimentary one hour consultation, feel free to reach out to me.