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Tips for Dealing with Custody Issues During Coronavirus Quarantine

As a result of the current pandemic, there have been significant and sudden changes to our daily lives and routines. There is a fair bit of panic coupled with genuine concerns as our federal, state and local governments take actions deemed necessary to protect the safety of our nation and slow the spread of the disease.

Quarantine and stay at home orders currently in place have forced the closure of most schools. Children are at home. This increases that amount of time that parents are responsible for their children and has required parents to be more active in that care. At the same time, parents are faced with increased anxiety and stress resulting from the virus.

These conditions are breeding grounds for disputes regarding children. A parent may feel that the other parent is not taking adequate precautions or are that the other parent is too restrictive. When parent may continue to interact with family and take children on shopping trips while the other parent believes it is essential to completely shelter children from the outside world. This has cause some parents to engage in self-help by refusing to honor parenting plans.

The following are tips for parenting plan discussions in this time of elevated anxiety and concern over safety:

  1. Just as was true before the Coronavirus outbreak, each parent may have a different parenting style. Just because we have a new challenge, there is no basis for suddenly overriding the other parent. Over time, it is very likely that you and the other parent will encounter numerous situations where you will disagree about the best course of action for your children. It is not in your children’s interest to override the other parent just because you disagree. More often than not, children benefit from the experience of differences in their parents parenting style.

  2. Don’t disrespect a parents concern for the safety of your children. While you may disagree with the actions necessary or advisable for keeping children safe, remember that the other parent is acting out of concern for your children. Be respectful of the concern.

  3. Stay flexible. When one parent makes a request, first decide whether you actually have a conflict that interferes with the request. If not, agree! If there is an obstacle, don’t deny the request. Instead, provide alternative options that address the concern of the requestor.

  4. Consider short-term agreements. It can be very helpful to enter into short-term stipulations as a method of making temporary agreements intended solely to address the immediate issues. These stipulations can expire after a certain time or upon the happening of an event - for example, until summer or school resumes, etc.

  5. Take the high road even when you feel the other parent is not. Even if you feel like the other parent is refusing to make concessions, don’t let that stop you from agreeing to changes and accommodations that ultimately don’t have a significant impact on you.

  6. Courts are mostly closed and ex partes are extremely limited. The use of ex parte applications has risen considerably in recent times to the point of abusing the process. Now more than ever it is important not to use the ex parte process except when there are immediate serious safety concerns. Just because you feel that a parent is not using sufficient hand sanitizer or is looser about shelter-in-place conduct, this is not a basis for an ex parte. An ex parte should only be used where grave harm may imminently occur without an order - such as in domestic violence cases.

  7. Although a court may not accept filings, you can enter into stipulations. Stipulations are formal agreements between the parties. They are binding when signed, even if there is a delay before they are filed with the court.

  8. It can be very helpful to communicate by email or using tools such as Talking Parents or Our Family Wizard. These tools log communications. This can be helpful to document agreements to make temporary schedule changes in light of the stay at home orders. This documentation can also be used at a later date when making requests to the court. The method of interaction is an important factor in building credibility. If you are able to show a reasonable and flexible approach while the other parent is rigid and irrational, it may form the basis for granting future requests.