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Child Custody

Last month, we wrote a blog about how the COVID-19 pandemic affects child custody issues and the importance of mediation in custody arrangements. Today, almost a month later, we're revisiting how the coronavirus changes child custody arrangements; taking a deep dive into how family law courts are handling child custody arrangements at this time, and what parents can do to keep themselves and their children safe.

If you feel the need to modify your child custody arrangement, we can help. The Law Offices of Andrea Schneider remain open for remote consultations and casework. For help with your family law case, contact us online or give us a call at (619) 304-8499. We hope you and your children are well during this stressful time. Stay safe!

How Have Family Law Courts Handled Child Custody and COVID-19?

Generally, family law courts have ruled that all child custody orders remain legally binding during the COVID-19 pandemic. In other words, your child custody arrangement, and your responsibility to uphold it, won't change during this time. If you or your ex violate the terms of your custody arrangement, whichever party is not in violation can ask a judge to provide a court order to legally enforce the custody agreement.

To see how your county court is handling child custody arrangements and court order hearings during this time, we suggest checking their website. For our California clients, here are links you may find useful:

  • Check here to see how LA courts are handling COVID-19.
  • Check here to see how San Diego courts are handling COVID-19.
  • Check here to see how Orange County courts are handling COVID-19.
  • Check here to see how San Bernadino courts are handling COVID-19.
  • Check here to see how Riverside County courts are handling COVID-19.

Most courts are temporarily closed during the pandemic. It's probably safe to assume that courts will re-open to the public once state stay-at-home orders start to lift (if you live in California, for example, that means courts may re-open in mid-May). If your county court is temporarily closed, check their website to see when they'll re-open. If you can't find the information, it's probably in an order from your state's supreme court, which you can find by looking at your state supreme court's website.

You can find a list of every state court website in the US here. Search for your state and navigate to the appropriate section (e.g., "county courts") to find the court you're looking for.

Even though most courts are temporarily closed at this time, many are still offering remote hearings. If you desperately need a hearing regarding your child custody arrangement and it is a true emergency, try calling your county court's clerk office—clerk offices may be accepting calls and arranging remote hearings at this time.

How Will 'Essential' Workers with Children Be Affected by COVID-19?

When we write 'essential' workers, we mean individuals such as grocery store workers, delivery drivers, warehouse workers, doctors, nurses, etc. who are still working during this time, and who regularly endure potential exposure to COVID-19. If you're an essential worker who is at risk of exposure to the coronavirus, your ex may be concerned you'll expose them or the children to the virus, and vice versa.

The New York Times recently ran an article about New Jersey physician Dr. Bertha Mayorquin, who faced an out-of-the-blue court order from her soon-to-be ex-husband determining that her ex should have sole custody of the couple's two children. The reason? Dr. Mayorquin's ex convinced a judge that Dr. Mayorquin was at high risk of exposing their children (and him) to COVID-19 in her work as a doctor.

Dr. Mayorquin was able to convince the judge to rescind the court order, but only after her hospital agreed to let her advise patients via remote means instead of seeing them personally.

Across the country, parents in child custody arrangements are finding themselves in similar situations as Dr. Mayorquin. Unfortunately, many of those parents don't have the option to work remotely.

Judges across the country may issue a court order and modify child custody arrangements if they believe a parent is at risk of being infected with COVID-19 and, as a result, is at risk of infecting their children or ex. Every case is different.If you are in San Diego County you should call attorney Andrea Schneider with your specific situation.

How Parents Can Successfully Navigate Child Custody Arrangements During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Fortunately, there are plenty of things parents can do during this time to navigate their child custody arrangement and the pandemic successfully. Here are our recommendations:

Always focus on what is in the best interest of the children.This is not a time for power plays and pettiness.If and when your case does go before a Judge, they will want to see that you have used best efforts to do what is right for your children.

  • Try and communicate with your ex as much as possible. We understand that in many cases, exes are estranged or don't have the best relationships. Now, however, it's essential to prioritize you and your children's safety. If either parent has reason to believe their children are unsafe with the other parent, it will cause a significant amount of tension and could result in legal action being taken. The best way to avoid this is by remaining in contact with each other. You and your ex should agree to let each other know if one of you is showing symptoms of the virus, or if you think you're at risk of contracting it. Try and maintain an open line of communication as much as possible. It won't last forever, and it will make your life significantly easier in the long run.
  • Don't be afraid to seek help from a mediator. If maintaining consistent communication with your ex just isn't feasible, don't be afraid to use a mediator as a middle-man (or woman). A mediator can help estranged parents bridge the gap without forcing them to communicate or engage in stressful confrontations with one another. Attorney Andrea Schneider can help you mediate your situation.
  • Whether on your own or with a mediator, develop a plan to put the children first. It's up to your and your ex to ensure your children not only remain safe but also have a good quality of life during this time. Most schools have shut down for the year, and stay-at-home orders mean children aren't getting to see their friends. As a result, this time is exceptionally stressful for most children. Your children probably feel afraid, and they also miss their friends (and their teachers, whether or not they'll admit it). Make their wellbeing a priority. If your child's school is educating them online, see what you can do to make that experience easier for your child. Help your child with their schoolwork if you need to. Arrange virtual playtime for them over apps like Skype, FaceTime, or Zoom. You and your ex should develop a comprehensive plan to make your children feel safe and loved at this time, regardless of who they're staying with.
  • If one of you is an essential worker, discuss what should happen. Many parents who are essential workers won't feel comfortable potentially exposing their children to COVID-19, and may ask their ex to take full custody temporarily. If you or your ex are at high risk of suffering from COVID-19 due to an autoimmune or respiratory disorder, discuss what steps should be taken to keep everyone safe. The more you communicate, the less likely anyone is to make a rash decision out of fear.
  • If the child custody arrangement has to be modified, make sure the children still see both parents. For example, if one parent temporarily takes sole custody, arrange regular virtual communication for the other parent with the children using a videoconferencing app. It's crucial both parents communicate with the children to reinforce that the parents are modifying the custody arrangement to protect the children, not because they dislike each other.

This is a stressful time for everyone. But, with the right strategy and focus, parents can ensure they maintain strong relationships with their children and navigate their custody arrangements successfully during the pandemic.

If you're looking for a mediator or attorney to help with your family law case, don't hesitate to reach out. For a free consultation, contact us online or via phone at (619) 304-8499. As always, stay well, and stay safe!

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