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Coronavirus and Child Custody

8 Tips on How To Effectivity Co-Parent During Covid-19

With the Covid-19 pandemic spreading in California and the United States, and the current Stay-At-Order order in California, many divorced parents with minor children are very anxious and concerned about the health and well-being of their children now more than ever. Covid-19 at this point has impacted every aspect of daily life, and schools have been closed, businesses closed or having to work remotely, and people required to stay home except for essential activities such as buying groceries.

There are legitimate reasons for such anxiousness and concern, but it is important to continue to follow existing child custody and parenting schedule orders. Covid-19 should not be an excuse to disregard court orders.

Even despite the need for social distancing, there is minimal risk in putting a child in one parent’s car and taking the child to the home of the other parent. The current Covid-19 ramifications should not include denial of court-ordered custody and parenting time, or be used to aggravate already contentious co-parenting situations.

There are reports in the United States in recent weeks of parents not returning children to the other parent because the other parent is a medical professional or other individual who has to continue working in an essential business despite the pandemic. Such parents refusing to follow existing custody orders risk being held in contempt of such court orders. As time passes, family courts will have to weigh that risk with the dangers of the Covid-19 virus. But custody court orders should generally be followed until a new court order is sought and obtained, because parents who are working saving lives and working on the front lines during this pandemic should not be punished.

Here are some practical suggestions for separated and divorced parents co-parenting during the Covid-19 pandemic:

1. Communicate with the other parent and be cooperative with each other because everyone is dealing with Covid-19. If there are valid reasons to believe that sending your child to the other parent, you should communicate with the other parent and try to agree on a temporary parenting schedule.

2. Do not decide to make unilateral decisions regarding children without involving the other parent, especially any changes to the custody schedule.

3. Let the other parent know about your child’s health, especially if they have been exposed to Covid-19 and if they have any pre-existing conditions like asthma that puts them at greater risk. Keep the other parent informed and part of the decision-making process if there is any need to bring your child to the doctor. If there is an emergency situation that necessitates quick action, you should still contact and inform the other parent quickly and keep them updated frequently in such emergency situation.

4. Do not assume the other parent’s exposure to Covid-19 or what is going on in the other’s parent’s home. Instead, try to be open and honest with each other.

5. If you and the other parent do agree to temporary changes to the parenting schedule, document them in writing by email so that there is no confusion about what those changes are.

6. Consider expanded use of FaceTime or other video chat options on a more daily basis with the other parent, so that both parents have “frequent and continuing contact” with the other parent if for some reason in-person contact has been suspended for any reason.

7. Put aside your past differences and work together! Now is the time more than ever. Although most family law courts are open at least for emergency custody filings or temporary restraining order matters, that should only be a last resort for parents in situations where emergency orders are necessary if there is an “imminent threat of harm or death” to a child if emergency orders are not made. Chances are your situation does not meet that legal standard. But the Courts may end taking up emergency matters where a parent has denied access of a child to the other parent where there is no reasonable or justified reason to do so, and when the family law courts reopen, evidence of such behavior will likely backfire on the withholding parent. Don’t be that parent.

8. If you and the other parent have a parenting dispute that cannot be resolved while the family law courts are closed and your situation does not constitute an emergency “imminent threat of harm or death” to your child, consider seeking a family law/divorce mediator who can conduct online video conferencing between you and the other parent as a way to resolve the dispute.

About the author: Gerald A. Maggio is an experienced Orange County divorce and family law lawyer, family law attorney, and Orange County divorce and family law mediator located in Irvine, California, serving the Orange County and Riverside areas. Mr. Maggio assists clients with legal issues including divorce, legal separation, divorce mediationchild custodyprenuptial agreementsstepparent adoptions, and other family law issues. Mr. Maggio has practiced law in California since 1999, and founded The Maggio Law Firm in 2005, focusing exclusively on divorce and family law matters. His firm can be reached by email to [email protected] and by phone at (949) 553-0304 and on the web at www.maggiolawfirm.com.

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