On September 11, 2001, I stood and watched on TV as the second plane flew into one of the Twin Towers. We were sent home from work. I thought, "Are we under attack? Are we at war? Are we safe?" The days and months that ensued changed the fabric of our society. Fear became the norm and impacted many of our decisions. I thought that had to be the worse time of our lives, then COVID-19 happened.
We are now living in unprecedented times. We don’t fear the next terrorist attack…as much. We now fear a cough or a sneeze from another person. Although more people have survived having the COVID-19 virus, many have died. It is not possible to predict with certainty how you would survive having the virus. As a result, we are protective of ourselves and our loved ones, especially our children. This makes co-parenting very difficult in times like these. If the kids are in the house, you can have more control in preventing their exposure to the virus. Once they leave to visit the other parent, you no longer have that control. However, we cannot allow fear to rule the day. I truly believe “this too shall pass.” Yet, how you handle co-parenting can have a lasting impact on the future custody of your children.
In this article, we will go over some tips around co-parenting during this pandemic. I realize this is easier said than done. However, when we return to life, as usual, the Courts will look at how parents dealt with ensuring each party spent time with the child or children. In a time when we see so many people die from this virus, and you have no way of knowing who is next, you want to be sure to spend as much time loving each other as possible. We need to keep that in mind not only for ourselves but for the other parent as well. As you read these tips, try to put yourself in the other parents’ shoes. How would you want to be treated? What would be fair to you? After you have done that, then you can make decisions that are best for the children, which is the determining factor for the Court.
Tip 1: Maintain safety
There are articles, Facebook posts, and news reports every single day on how to stay safe during this crisis. I prefer to rely on the CDC for information – less propaganda! (See https://www.cdc.gov/). There you can learn information as to how to reduce the likelihood of being exposed to the virus. We should follow it and make sure that everyone in the house supports it as well. Now is not the time to allow our teens or anyone the freedom to "just be themselves." Be vigilant, and we can improve the chances of not contracting the virus.
Tip 2: Talk openly and honestly with your children
There is no way to shield your children from what is happening in society. They see it as soon as they get on the internet on their way to navigating to their schoolwork. Do not assume that just because they are children, they do not have their thoughts and feelings about what is happening. Take the time to talk to them about what is happening and why you are taking the necessary precautions. This may help them to realize for themselves why they need to stay safe. Also, this will help them to be vigilant when they need to leave the house to visit with the other parent. They may be the ones to insist on the other parent taking precautions in the event the other parent is not as careful as you have been in your home.
Tip 3: Follow court orders
Admittedly, this can be very difficult to do under these circumstances. You have no way of knowing how safe the other parent is at any given time. This is why regularly talking to the other parent will help. You can't decide in the vacuum. You need information. At some point, the Courts will open up, and the other parent may choose to file a motion for contempt, claiming you did not allow visits with the children. Your response can't only be "there was a pandemic, and I wanted to keep the kids safe." You need to have facts around why you stopped the visitation. Perhaps, the other parent wasn't practicing social distancing as evidenced by the party pictures posted on Facebook or that he or she confirmed that they are sick. The Court takes their orders very seriously. Violating a court order can cost you, and so you need to be sure you are standing on solid facts before deciding to violate an order.
Tip 4: Find ways to compromise
Assume for the time being that the other parent cares as much about the children as you do. They may show it differently, but for now, give them the benefit of the doubt. Talk to them about ways you both can spend time with the children and keep them safe at the same time. Perhaps, for the time being, the visits are at your home so that you can watch as they come in and ensure they have washed their hands before being with the children. However, if you can't be in the same room with each other, perhaps you can meet more often than the regular schedule but for less time somewhere in the community. You may agree upon a third party to host the parenting time because you can rely on that person to keep everyone safe. No matter what you do, enter the conversation ready to compromise, which often means giving up something. This will help in finding a means to allow the other parent time with kids and keep the kids safe. I am in no way suggesting you let the kids enter into an environment that is not safe for them. However, you can't just default to "no" without first trying to find a way to make it work.
Tip 5: Document, document, document
You may be the parent who is denied the visit despite all of your efforts to keep safe, compromise with the other parent, and follow court orders. In that instance, I recommend that you document, document, document! In Connecticut, the courts are closed to any court activity that does not fall into the Priority 1 category. This category includes only specific types of cases such as
· Criminal arraignments of defendants held in lieu of bond
· All arraignments involving domestic violence cases;
Family orders of relief from abuse;
Civil orders of relief from abuse
Orders of temporary custody (Juvenile Matters)
Orders to appear (Juvenile Matters)
Emergency ex-parte order of temporary custody
Juvenile detention operations for detainees held for juvenile Court
(See https://jud.ct.gov/COVID19.htm) for more details. Regrettably, motions around modifying visitation are not in this category. Moreover, there is no guarantee that if you file a motion emergency ex-parte order for temporary custody around obtaining visitation, it will be granted. Trust me, I tried! When the Courts reopen, they will review cases in which there was a violation of court-ordered visitation. You need to be prepared to lay out the details of the dates and times that you were not allowed visitation with your children. Do not wait until standing before a Judge to try to remember the facts. Keep a journal - whether you use a paper calendar or notes on your phone. Be sure to keep a good record of your efforts to see the kids and when the visit was denied. As I noted earlier, the Courts do not take violations of court orders lightly. The other parent will have to justify their refusal, and if they can't, a court could rule against them. A Court can only do so when it has facts upon which it can rely. So again, I say, document, document, document.
COVID-19 will change our society. Time will tell the impact it will have on how we live our lives and conduct our business. One thing that will not change is that children need to have a relationship with both of their parents. If a Court finds that contact with a parent is not in the child's best interest, then and only then, can contact be denied. In the meantime, we have to find a way to make parenting time with each parent happen even in a pandemic. Do you very best to find a way to keep the kids safe while ensuring that the other parent can spend time with the children.
One thing that COVID-19 has proven is we can't predict who and how it will impact. Therefore, we need to spend as much time with our loved ones in any way we can. We will overcome this pandemic. We will survive, and life will go on. How we treat each other during this time is just as important. Don't allow fear to rule the day.