by Michael Duncan
Duncan Trial & Mediation
As an attorney practicing family law, I’ve witnessed how the COVID-19 pandemic has added significant stress to all areas of daily life. This stress has possibly contributed to increased divorce and domestic violence filings, for example. It has also impacted child custody, which Florida law officially refers to as “timesharing”.
During these uncertain times, if you have a parenting plan whereby you share custody/timesharing, things can become complicated because, let’s face it, there was no preexisting rulebook for something as unprecedented as a pandemic. Health and safety concerns, distance learning for school-age children, stay-at-home orders, parents working from home – all have added stress and confusion, even for those who have been great at co-parenting.
The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) have created guidelines for divorced or separated parents who share custody during the COVID-19 pandemic. Parenting plans and timesharing orders do not anticipate pandemics, certainly not anything on the scale of the COVID-19 crisis.The AAML/AFCC COVID-19 guidelinesare as follows:
1. Be Healthy Follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines. This includes washing hands properly, wiping down surfaces, and maintaining safe social distancing. Take care of your mental health. Stay informed through reliable sources but avoid tuning in 24/7.
2. Be Mindful Be honest with your children about the pandemic’s seriousness but remain calm. Avoid exposing children to media coverage intended for adults. If children show concern, encourage them to ask questions and respond to them truthfully at an age-appropriate level.
3. Be Compliant While the COVID-19 crisis has added uncertainty to our daily lives, parenting plans and court orders must be complied with. Haggling over timesharing details should be avoided if at all possible. Some of Florida’s courts, but not all, have issued administrative orders addressing the COVID-19 crisis and parenting plans – check with an attorney to see whether your court has issued any such orders.
4. Be Creative Be creative and cooperative in your co-parenting. Cooperate with the other parent to manage children’s distance learning and be creative in finding ways to keep children engaged during these times when they would otherwise be in school. If one parent believes there is reason to deviate from the parenting plan, it is important to consult with the other parent to see whether there is agreement. If one parent may not be able to see the children for a time, consider FaceTime, Skype or other videoconferencing so that parent can interact with the children.
5. Be Transparent Communicate with your co-parent in an honest, complete and timely manner about any suspected or confirmed exposure to COVID-19 that you or your children may have experienced. Try to agree with your co-parent on what steps each will take to protect your children from exposure. If you or your children exhibit any possible symptoms of the virus, inform your co-parent immediately and remain in communication.
6. Be Generous If possible, provide makeup time to your co-parent who missed out on time with your children due to the COVID-19 crisis. Courts expect parents to act reasonably when they can, even during highly unusual circumstances. Encourage your children to remain connected with their other parent by phone, email, or video.
7. Be Understanding The COVID-19 pandemic has caused economic hardships for many. Those paying child support and suffering economically should, if circumstances permit, try to provide whatever is possible, even if not the full amount. Those parents who receive child support, if circumstances permit, may want to try to be accommodating and understanding. Parents should try to work together so that children are supported until financial normalcy returns.
Ideally, all parents will cooperate and work together in focusing on their children’s best interests. In the event you are in a situation in which this is not taking place, or if you need assistance with regard to any other custody/timesharing or family law issue, consider contacting a family law attorney for guidance and advice.
This article is general in nature and is not intended to provide and does not provide legal advice. This article does not create an attorney-client relationship. If you need legal advice, please contact an attorney directly.