Even in the best of circumstances, patience and flexibility are often necessary for parents to avoid conflicts over custody and visitation arrangements. The unexpected COVID-19 crisis has presented new, often complicated, challenges for parents who live apart. In addition to the usual restrictions of living under a court-approved parenting plan, special steps may need to be taken for everyone to get through the pandemic with their relationships and well-being intact.
Create a temporary parenting plan to adjust to quarantine rules
Orders addressing custody and visitation are based on the circumstances existing at the time. Though a comprehensive parenting plan should address reasonably predictable contingencies, nothing could have prepared parents or their attorneys for a situation like the current pandemic. Working out temporary revisions might relieve some of the stress and confusion associated with an already difficult time, helping you deal with such issues as:
- Travel problems caused by stay-at-home orders
- Use of online video conferencing to help parents and children keep in touch
- Changes in schedules that may be needed now that school is out
- Concerns about possible exposure to individuals with high-risk jobs
- Rescheduling of holidays and vacation time
- Adjustment of living arrangements to protect loved ones who might be more susceptible to COVID-19
- Potential makeup time, after restrictions are lifted, for parents forced to miss visitation periods
Everyone understands that we’re dealing with unexpected circumstances. But no matter how compelling the reason, ignoring terms of a parenting plan or making revisions on your own could lead to more trouble. Putting aside existing differences and making mutually agreeable temporary plans will be to everyone’s benefit.
Find ways to resolve disputes outside of the courtroom
Disputes over custody and visitation aren’t like most other legal conflicts, where the parties can usually walk away from each other after the decision comes down. Parents must continue to communicate about important matters afterward, so usually it’s best to try to reach consensus in which each party’s needs are at least partially reflected. With many courthouses closed to in-person family law hearings during the pandemic, finding a suitable compromise is even more of a priority. Negotiating terms informally or bringing in a mediator for guidance will help you avoid delays as non-emergency court hearings create a backlog. Mediation sessions can be conducted online, but if court intervention is necessary, a virtual hearing may be possible.
Though COVID-19 presents unique obstacles to parents who don’t share the same home, a skillful family law attorney can help identify ways to improve the situation. By taking positive steps now, you might be able to relieve everyone’s stress no matter how long the pandemic lasts.