The COVID-19 Pandemic and Parenting Plans
How does the COVID-19 Pandemic affect Parenting Plans and Custody Issues?
As we ease into week three of this crisis, quarantined parents and children are stressed. These families share the terror and disruption that all of us are feeling. We can no longer go work, go to the gym, meet our friends and family, seek entertainment, or shop anywhere but at a market or drug store. When we do shop there, we are wearing masks and gloves and afraid of coming in contact with other people, products and food.
Parents make three meals a day, do laundry, clean their homes, wash their hands, and home school their children. Daycare or other help around the house is risky or not available. Most parents are working at home, have had their salaries cut, or have lost their job. There are no more playdates, scouts, ballet, baseball, soccer, or karate. Children can no longer play with the other children in the neighborhood.
Parents who have shared parenting schedules are often under court orders to exchange their children with the other parent.
Various authorities have issued orders that state that “the existing court order shall control in all instances. Custody schedules or parenting plans shall not be affected by any shelter-in-place order or other order restricting movement that arises from COVID-19 pandemic.”
The reality is that families are under tremendous pressure. Of course, they should comply with orders when possible. But what if the other parent or their family has a Covid-like symptom?
What if they are diagnosed with the disease? What if that parent’s friends or family have it? There may be reasons why complying with the court order is not sensible.
Most courts are closed for regular business. Some courts are hearing emergency matters, but custody disputes are not likely to be resolved this way. When the courts do open, it is expected that there will be a backlog of cases.
A court will not likely address any incident that arises now until the fall.
We can hope that a judge will view any “violation” of the custody order in the context of this pandemic.
The orders that require parents to construe references to the school schedule in their parenting plan as referring to the original schedule are justified. The orders which limit supervised visitation to supervised and facilitated virtual visitation are warranted. I think it is helpful to note that any of the various stay-at-home orders does not bar relatively local exchanges of children under a parenting plan. They fall under multiple categories of essential travel.
The court system was never able to handle child custody disputes efficiently. A request for a hearing filed today, may not be heard for a couple of months. Now with this crisis, the courts are only hearing matters where there is serious domestic violence or sexual abuse. Judges are not able to hear custody disputes related to the Covid 19 pandemic. People are going to be forced to deal with their issues in private mediation or trials — probably by remote conferencing technology.