As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to escalate, child custody has emerged as an unforeseen battleground between co-parents. From keeping kids safe when one parent is an essential worker, to dealing with school shutdowns, co-parents across the country face unique hurdles as a result of the coronavirus.
Understanding how COVID-19 affects your current custody arrangement, and what steps you can take to improve your parenting plan going forward, can help you navigate this challenging time more easily.
How to Handle Co-Parenting During COVID-19
Co-parents are in for a rough time during the coronavirus pandemic, but taking the right precautions can help you succeed. Here are some tips for handling COVID-19:
- Keep in mind that your custody order is still legally binding. Unless you formally modify your custody arrangement in court, you must still exchange custody as dictated in the custody order. Refusing to transfer custody could result in legal penalties. If you decide to pursue legal action against your co-parent, such as filing a custody order modification, keep in mind that most courts are backlogged right now, and your case won't be heard immediately.
- If one parent is an essential worker or might come into contact with COVID-19, discuss options. For example, it may be prudent to adjust the custody arrangement so the at-risk parent uses video tools like Skype or FaceTime to see the children instead of taking physical custody. Your utmost priority should be keeping your children safe, and unfortunately, that might mean one parent giving up visitation temporarily.
- Make sure both parents have the same boundaries when it comes to safety. Both parents should agree on matters such as whether the children should wear a mask to go out, if the children can have playdates, whether the parents can have friends visit, etc. If both parents are on the same page, it will reduce friction between all parties.
- Determine how to support your child academically and emotionally. Schools are shut down right now. As a result, many children are learning online, which might be a difficult adjustment. Compounding on the problem, your kids probably miss their friends and are bummed about missing events like prom and graduation. Parents should discuss how to support their kids.
- Determine whether your current parenting plan is even realistic. COVID-19 has economically impacted many Americans. For parents who lost their jobs or have suddenly found themselves working part-time, a previously determined child custody arrangement may be untenable. Job-hunting while caring for a child might also be difficult. Parents should discuss how their current circumstances affect the child custody arrangement. If necessary, co-parents should make adjustments to preserve the well-being of their children.
When Co-Parents Disagree About Vaccinations
When vaccines to combat the COVID-19 pandemic were made available to the public, people were quick to show their support or advocate against the use of the vaccine. This conversation became more heated once the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended children over the age of 5 receive the vaccine. In some instances, co-parents found themselves on opposite ends of the conversation from each other. Now, the CDC has recommended children ages 5–11 years should receive a booster shot five months after their initial Pfizer-BioNTech vaccination series. But what happens when one parent wants their child to get the booster shot and the other parent does not?
In many cases, it doesn’t matter if you’re the parent who wants the kid to be vaccinated and boosted or the parent who doesn’t. The decision is usually up to your co-parenting or custody agreement. Whenever you have any type of serious disagreement with your co-parent, you should refer back to the custody paperwork before making any rash decisions. Who has control over health care decisions, including vaccinations, should be outlined in the custody paperwork.
If one parent has sole custody over their child, they have the right to determine if their child receives the vaccine or not. If the parents have joint custody over the child, the court expects the parents to discuss the matters together to come up with a solution. In some joint custody agreements, one parent still has the final say on health care decisions and has the right to vaccinate the child even if it goes against the other parent’s wishes.
If the co-parents have a joint agreement and one does not have the right to make decisions over the other, they can ask the court to help make a decision. In this situation, judges will want to hear testimony from a medical professional. They will also determine if one parent has a history of making medical decisions on behalf of the child and what their school requires. They may also ask the child for their opinion if they’re older, around ages 12–14.
Parents are facing an unprecedented amount of stress right now. At The Law Offices of Daniel J. Miller, we can help you make sure your current custody arrangement is airtight and meets your needs.