In New York courts have been closed since March 17th, except for specific emergencies. When the closure first was announced, our initial thought was that this is going to wreak havoc on custody arrangements. For some, this emergency has brought out the best in their co-parenting abilities. For others, that is not the case. We have seen a huge uptick in parents withholding children. Some people have a legitimate reason to be concerned. Perhaps there are health concerns such as a co-parent not heeding the advice to strictly social distance and stay at home as much as possible. But some people are using this crisis to gain an advantage without any medical basis to do so. Read on for our tips about how to handle co-parenting during this incredibly difficult time.
1. Put your kids first. This applies all the time, but we have it first on our list because it seems many people need this reminder. Your kids have two parents and while you may think you are the only one who can keep them safe right now, that probably is not true. Your kids are dealing with their own anxiety as a result of COVID-19. Don’t add to it by keeping them away from their other parent. Unless you have a valid reason to change the custodial schedule, e.g. a symptomatic household member or direct exposure to someone with COVID-19, follow the time-sharing arrangement that is in your agreement or order. If you use this crisis to take advantage of the situation, odds are high that there will be repercussions later on.
2. Be transparent. This is a very uncertain time. In custody litigations people often don’t share information that they think will be used against them later on. During this pandemic, it is better to be transparent about information that could affect the health of your children. If you or a member of your household are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms or have been notified of a direct exposure, tell your co-parent and try to work out a temporary change in the schedule and some make-up time for when you are out of quarantine. Likewise, keep your co-parent up to date on any symptoms your child is experiencing and work together with doctors to figure out the best treatment plan and medical advice for how to deal with your schedule.
3. Be flexible. There may need to be temporary changes to the schedule in order to keep everyone safe and healthy. Approach discussions about modifications with an open mind. Remember that keeping everyone safe and healthy is the top priority and there may need to be changes to achieve that goal.
4. Maintain consistency. Many children are struggling with the loss of their normal routine. Homeschooling is hard on everyone. Communicate with your ex in order to establish rules that are similar in each household. We are all using screen time more than before to manage but this is not the time to be the “fun” parent who allows screens all day while expecting all of the homeschooling to happen at your ex’s house. Even though you are no longer together, you are in this situation together and setting expectations for your children that will be the same in their two homes will help everyone.
5. Call your lawyer. Even though courts are closed, lawyers are working. We can assist with negotiations and advise you on the best way to proceed. Judges are conducting conference calls from home in some circumstances. If you do not have a lawyer, Greenblatt Law is here to help. Elysa Greenblatt and Gabriella Formosa are working remotely and can help get you through this. Feel free to call the office or email ([email protected]).
Remember that the health and safety of everyone involved, especially those more vulnerable, is the most important thing to keep in mind during this pandemic. Your children look to you for proper guidance and you as a parent are expected to keep your children safe from harm. We know that not all co-parenting decisions can and will be easy, and we know you may be missing seeing or interacting with loved ones, but we are all in this together and will get through it together. Stay safe, and stay healthy.