Parenting Time Issues During a Global Pandemic
When coronavirus hit American shores sometime in February 2020, many people thought, or hoped, the epidemic would be over in a few months. As a result, in terms of parenting timeshare arrangements, many families turned to stopgap measures and informal agreements.
At this point, it seems that COVID-19 restrictions might last well into 2021.
Since the pandemic is not ending anytime soon, even if you have a good relationship with your spouse, it may be time to legally modify existing orders. Only formal modifications are enforceable in court. Additionally, only such modifications bring stability into an unstable situation. Frequently, if a Somerset County family law attorney presents an agreed modification order to the court, the judge will sign it without a hearing.
How Coronavirus Affects Parenting Time Factors
Theoretically, COVID-19 does not affect the best interests of the child, which is the guiding principle in all timesharing arrangements. Pragmatically, however, that’s sometimes not the case. Coronavirus could affect parenting time division factors in the following ways:
- Educational Quality: Many schools are transitioning from live instruction to online instruction. If that transition lasts through 2021, a timesharing change might be appropriate. Some parents can support effective online learning and some cannot.
- Physical Safety: Normally, this factor applies to cases involving physical abuse. But these are not normal times. COVID-19 can seriously affect children, especially those with pre-existing conditions. If someone in the house is infected, an emergency safety order might be appropriate.
- Flexibility: Effective co-parenting, just like effective parenting, requires compromise. If one parent has been inflexible regarding coronavirus accommodations, that intransigence could justify a parenting time change.
The coronavirus outbreak has created some economic changes as well. Businesses are closing and more people are working from home. These changes could affect child support payments, especially since New Jersey is an income share state. Both parents’ incomes, as well as the timesharing division, play a part in child support determination.
Making Reasonable Accommodations
New Jersey law allows parents to set up temporary consent orders regarding parenting time changes. These orders specify the alterations and also specify an end date. For example, the parents could modify the timesharing division until live instruction resumes at school. Temporary consent orders are obviously not permanent solutions, but at least they are written and enforceable.
These accommodations should also include provisions for a sick parent or other family member. If that happens, the child should probably avoid any contact with the sick person for at least fourteen days. The well children should probably stay with the other parent for that period of time.
It is also important to use available tools to bring the parenting time division as close as possible to what it was before the pandemic. Skype, Zoom, FaceTime, and a number of other platforms are available. Digital parenting is a poor substitute for live parenting. But it is better than nothing. These platforms at least allow parents and children to see one another’s faces. Some limited joint activity, like going over homework together or watching a movie together, is also possible.
If nothing else, a temporary consent order could include general language about following all state and local guidelines in terms of facemasks, group activities, and social distancing.
Reach Out to a Diligent Attorney
COVID-19 does not alter timesharing fundamentals, but some adjustments might be in order. For a confidential consultation with an experienced Somerville divorce lawyer, contact Katherine K. Wagner, Attorney at Law. Convenient payment plans are available.