How do I handle parenting time during COVID-19 and a stay-at-home mandate?
The world is abuzz amidst COVID-19 and daily life seems to have changed for most of us. In fact, it’s continuing to change on a regular basis. This is a new situation – one that we have never encountered before and most of us have no idea how to proceed. Because it is an unknown, it is a scary time for many, including parents, caregivers and children. In NH and MA, announcements are made daily regarding work, and government mandates. How you handle this situation as it pertains to parenting time can make a stressful situation less stressful for both you and your children. We are writing this article to help provide some insight on parenting during COVID-19.
COVID-19 is a novel virus that acts like a respiratory virus. It’s highly contagious and unpredictable. Americans are used to dealing with highly contagious; consider the flu, for example. Any parent will tell you that if one child in a home or school gets the flu, it’s highly stressful keeping them apart so the other does not get it and most of the time those efforts fail. Another highly contagious that parents can identify with is head lice. Those little things can cause pools, schools and daycares to close in a minute. So, what’s unique about this and the way we parent?
COVID-19 travels much faster and can live on surfaces. It can be fatal to those who are vulnerable, or have other serious health issues. Cleanliness is paramount and washing hands has never been more important. It’s the only way to kill the virus and stop the spread. Because of this, caregivers and parents are stressed. Many clients have called to ask about the stay-at-home government mandate and how to manage parenting time in light of an order. Does that mean that you need to ignore your parenting plan? Do you have to bring the child to the other parent for his parenting time? Can you withhold parenting time due to the health scare? What happens if the other parent works in a high risk (of infection) workplace? What if he or she lives near a high outbreak area? What happens if your child is quarantined during your visitation time? These are questions that take us to the reality of this situation. Let’s take these one at a time:
For those of you in NH, there is currently no statewide shelter-in-place order, but it does appear to be coming and probably in the next day or so. He has issued emergency orders which are all found here: https://www.governor.nh.gov/news-media/emergency-orders/index.htm.
For those in MA, there is now a statewide shelter-in-place order. You can read more about that here: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-essential-services
- Can you or should you ignore your parenting plan? Keep in mind that the Court favors each parent spending time with his/her child and adherence to a court-ordered parenting plan. The terms of an individual stay-at-home order will dictate what type of travel is permitted. Even with a stay-at-home government order, it is unlikely that travel to the other parent for his/her parenting time will be deemed “unnecessary” travel. Consider that you will be in a car and traveling from one location to the other. In that, there is little to articulate as a safety issue to circumvent parenting time. For example, there is no exposure to others, no groups over ten, etc. Additionally, in many situations, parenting time does not involve excessive travel.
- Do you have to bring the child to the other parent for his parenting time? In this unprecedented situation, it’s hard to predict how the Court will balance the parenting time with the need for safety and health. However, it is safe to say that for most, the terms of the stay-at-home order will unlikely render a parenting plan unenforceable. That being the case, you should be mindful of the safety issues in your individual case and try your best to work with the other parent to make a mutual decision about parenting time.
A few “common sense” reminders to keep in mind as you navigate parenting time and the difficult issues you might encounter moving forward:
- Talk/Discuss: Ask, don’t demand, for information about potential exposure of those in the other home. Don’t draw a line in the sand about how to manage parenting time. Discuss your position with the other parent and try to find an agreement. Perhaps you agree to forego parenting time but agree to make it up at another point (thus making all grounds equal).
- Have patience: This isn’t easy on anyone. Everyone is stressed. Most have a short temper. It’s scary and uncharted waters. Try to take a deep breath and have pause before reacting to the other parent’s position and response.
- Consider remote learning: Remember that your child is likely using remote learning currently. Do you (or does the other parent) have the ability to spend the time with the child ensuring that the work is complete? Does that parent have an extra computer or other supplies to make it happen? Can you share the supplies being used in your home to theirs to facilitate the process?
- Attorney Intervention: Sometimes a meeting of the minds is difficult under stressful and emotional situations. Not only is there the stress of COVID-19, but you’re worried about work, income, school for your child, etc. Get advice from your attorney about possible options and different ways to compromise in this difficult time.
- Mediation: Mediation is an option to work out any issues regarding parenting. If you’ve used a mediator on the past, reach out to that person. Consider using an attorney as a third party assist to guide guidance and bring the two of you to agreement.
- Parenting Coordinator: Using a parenting coordinator is another option for trying to find a compromise or resolving a situation.
Remember, every case is different. Please consult counsel and get advice for your specific case. Your case history and posture weigh heavily into decisions made by the court (in addition to current circumstances regarding health and wellness).
I hope that you are doing safe and well. I am here for if you need guidance on your case via consultation by email, telephone or video. Please email me at [email protected] or call to set up a consultation concerning your case.