Navigating youngster custody within the coronavirus period

But amid the Covid-19 pandemic, family custody was far from regular.

The girl’s father is with a front-line clinician at a local hospital and neither parent was happy with the possibility of increased exposure.

So Lenkert and her ex had a chat and agreed to temporarily change the custody agreement until the threat to public health subsides. The teenager has lived in San Francisco full time since then.

“We wanted to minimize the risk of exposure for them and the possible ripple effect,” says Lenkert, editor-in-chief. “”[She] misses her father but understands the reasons. “

Divorced parents face similar situations and difficult choices across the country. Shelter-in-place orders, regional lockdowns, and overarching health concerns have forced parents to change their usual custody plans and rewrite routines.

In cases like Lenkert’s, where the relationship is amicable, the changes have been relatively smooth. In other cases where the parents have become estranged, the improvisation has required billable hours with divorce lawyers and unearthed old wounds, making an already stressful time even more difficult.

This fear is only exacerbated by a family court system that has basically closed down like all other non-essential sections of society.

“Every day, all day – it’s the main issue we’ve looked at in our office for the past three weeks,” said Jodi Lazar, a divorce and family lawyer in Austin, Texas. “I’m sure it will be number one for the foreseeable future.”

Disrupted a regular routine

Part of the current custody challenge is logistical. Many divorced parents who live close together exchange children at schools or workplaces, most of which are closed. In addition, parents who live in separate cities run the risk of violating local placement rules if they go too far out of the way to drop off or pick up a child.

As for parents who live in different states? Most would agree that letting children fly alone is too risky right now.

Another part of the puzzle is medicine. How do you know your ex takes social distancing as seriously as you do? How do you know your ex’s new partner is keeping himself safe enough not to infect your child? These are legitimate questions many divorced parents are asking themselves right now.

“I’m not worried [my ex-wife] Putting our children at risk, but I’ve been thinking about variables I can’t control when they’re there, “said Jason Schoenfelder, a single father in Chicago.

Schönfeld’s girls, ages 10 and 7, usually split their time equally between his place and their mother’s house. But because she works in a hospital, they spent more time with him.

“I think it is natural for single parents to ask themselves, ‘How safe will my children be if I don’t control the environment?’ But in the end I trust that her mother has her interests in mind, “said Schönfelder.

Current custody decisions are in effect

The biggest obstacle facing divorced parents during the coronavirus pandemic is legal. Most state and regional family courts are closed or open only for emergencies involving abuse or exposure. This means that even if parents want to formally change existing custody arrangements, they cannot.

Lazar, the Austin family law attorney, said the Texas Supreme Court had issued an emergency ruling advising parents to follow current custody decisions according to the pre-shutdown schedule. The ordinance also stipulated that home-stay provisions in certain counties or cities would not override the ownership plan.

“That might not be what parents wanted to hear, but that [ruling] ensured security, “said Lazar.

Other states have left decisions vague. In Massachusetts, for example, John D. Casey, Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court, issued an open letter last week that said, “Both parents should work together.”Coronavirus Symptoms: A List and When to Seek Help

The interpretation of divorce laws is equally vague in Connecticut, where attorneys advise clients to make temporary changes to the original custody agreement in writing, to save hard copies of all correspondence about changes to the agreement, and to welcome flexibility on both sides.

Erik Broder, a divorce attorney in Westport, in particular, said he advised clients to suggest virtual meetings on FaceTime, Zoom, or Skype for parents who don’t actively have custody, and “makeup time” for those parents who offer that Plan to optimize now in exchange for extra time with their children later in the year.

Nevertheless, Broder admitted that some situations will never be easy, even with outside mediation.

“There is no question that there will be parents trying to arm this [pandemic] to prevent another parent from spending time with a child, “he said.” Unfortunately, without cooperation, there isn’t much recourse [right now]. “

Negotiating with an ex

Some parents say it is difficult to trust that their children are okay.

Jihong Larson, a Chinese-Canadian resident in Dallas, Texas, understands the frustration that comes when agreements cannot be changed.

Larson and her ex-husband currently work under a separate custody agreement – a plan that says they will have the same amount of time with their two children, ages 14 and 11. Earlier this month, when Larson began to worry about growing anti-Asian sentiments in her community, she asked her ex-husband for permission to bring her half-Chinese children back to Canada until the pandemic ended. Her ex refused, and Larson has given in, at least for now.

“We’re in the middle of a custody battle and he doesn’t want to lose his position,” she said. “I am concerned about the safety of our children and I received a letter from [my ex-husband’s] Attorney warns me not to do anything to compromise the custody agreement. “

The threat is real.

Marcia Zug, a professor of law at the University of South Carolina, wrote in a March 24 post for The Conversation that judges could reduce visiting and custody of parents who interfere with their ex’s custody rights.Stressed Eating These Days?  Here is some help

“You want to do what you think is in your child’s best interests, but it’s a real gamble because you don’t know what the courts are going to do when they get going again,” Zug told CNN in a subsequent interview .

“Usually the court will not rule in favor of a parent who violates a custody and visiting arrangement. It is possible for courts to change the approach based on that.” [coronavirus]but if they apply the same framework as always, it will be rare for them to find such things justified. “

In these crazy times, mediation may be the best option to deal with a controversial custody situation. This process can provide a roadmap for each parent’s position. A roadmap that could help judges clarify details of custody changes across the board.

It is better to convey if possible

Alison L. Patton, a family attorney who has practiced mediation for 11 years, said that notarized temporary amending agreements can also be used to provide responses at a time when most courts can and want to.

“We are writing provisions that state that they are binding when you sign them, even if they are later converted into an enforceable court order,” said Patton, who is a La Jolla, Calif. Resident.

“When we put brokered agreements and provisions together, we make it clear that this is a temporary change, not a precedent, and that things will return to normal once the extenuating circumstances end,” she said. “Please note that these modifications cannot later be used as part of a power game.”

Of course, the best scenario is still that the parents work it out among themselves.

Just ask Betsy Carmody, chaplain at a boarding school near Washington, DC. She and her ex-husband have been divorced since December 2019 and mutually revised the custody agreement for their 12-year-old daughter in March after her father started working at home.

The details of the new agreement are simple. Before that, her tween spent more time with Carmody than her father each week. Now, after making a few small changes to the schedule, she spends about 50 percent of the time with each parent.

The arrangement gives both parents the chance to get their jobs done and be present for their daughter, who has expressed some level of concern about the pandemic herself.

“We’re still a family, we just live in different houses,” said Carmody. “That was true for all of us before [the coronavirus] became a problem and it will continue to apply to us afterwards. We must do the best for everyone. And I know we will. “

Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Northern California. He is locked in his 1,740 square meter house with a wife, three daughters and two cats.

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