We are all living in an unprecedented time as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. This is new territory for divorced parents dealing with New Jersey’s “stay at home” order and imposed social distancing while simultaneously attempting to co-parent. It is also uncharted territory for the attorneys advising them. How are parents supposed to address transfers (hand off) of children if they are supposed to stay at home? Do parents feel safe in handing off their children when there may be issues of trust between the parents? This blog will attempt to address those concerns, understanding that there is much uncertainty and little guidance provided at this time.
In order to effectively share a child between two households, assuming that is even permissible during the “stay at home” order, there has to be trust between the parents. If the parents are already lacking an ability to communicate or cooperate effectively, then this will be seemingly impossible.
Some potential guidelines for attempting to co-parent during the chaos:
- Agree who will be permitted in each parents’ household (or who will not be).
- Agree on what social distancing means and how it will be observed by both parents.
- Agree on whether parents will go outside their homes and to what locations. For example, parents may agree that they will do shopping for groceries or other essentials without the child(ren), or that certain precautions will be taken (maybe grocery delivery or other mechanisms to ensure distancing).
- Agree on whether both parents will work remotely and not go to offices or other public places.
What if parents cannot agree on the above types of solutions?
- The Courts are open to deal with emergency proceedings. If your child is being withheld from you (without reasonable accommodations or alternatives being offered), you may be able to apply for an emergent order in which you ask a judge to compel the other parent to produce the child.
- Ask the other parent to consent to therapy via remote access. There may be co-parenting therapists willing to do this either by phone or web conference to try to assist in coming up with alternatives.
- Ask the other parent to consent to the appointment of a Parent Coordinator or Arbitrator to make recommendations or even decisions, temporarily, until this abates.
Now is the time to try to be flexible.
- Permit additional Facetime or phone calls, especially if a parent is not able to see a child due to distance or health/safety concerns.
- Consider makeup parenting time after “stay at home” orders are lifted.
Of course, not all situations are created equal. There are parents who will try to capitalize on this situation; parents who will use this as an opportunity to prevent the other parent from seeing a child or who attempt to harass and exploit the pandemic for time they would not otherwise be entitled to (such as claiming a child is not in school and therefore available).
New laws may be developing every day as we endeavor to figure out the “new normal.” If you are unsure of what to do, whether it’s a question of whether you are required to follow a schedule or if a parent is refusing to provide you with time or a temporary alternative, seek out legal advice as soon as possible. Our office is open remotely and available to assist during these times. I am a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and I am available to help you get answers to your questions.
Diana Fredericks, Esq., is a partner with Gebhardt & Kiefer, PC and devotes her practice solely to family law matters. She is a Certified Matrimonial Law Attorney and was named to the NJ Super Lawyers Rising Stars list in the practice of family law by Thomson Reuters in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, and 2019, and to the New Leaders of the Bar list by the New Jersey Law Journal in 2015. Contact Ms. Fredericks for a consultation at 908-735-5161 or via email.
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