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Co-Parenting During a Public Health Crisis

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way that we as Americans live our daily lives. We understand that this is a particularly stressful period for our clients who are sharing custody of children during this unprecedented time.  However, adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child.

Parenting Time and Decision Making

Many parents are concerned about sending their children out into the world since the Governor issued a Stay at Home Order in Maryland.  Of course, the parents in each household should be taking all necessary precautions to protect the health of all members of the household.  They should be complying with all CDC, state and local guidelines and modeling those behaviors for their children.  In every instance, divorced/separated parents should communicate and establish consistent safety protocols that are followed in each home, and they should communicate regarding all safety and health issues that impact the children.  It would be wise for the parent transporting the child to have a copy of their Agreement or Court Order to show authorities that they have a legitimate legal reason to be on the roads. If the child must be transported across state lines for exchanges, self-quarantine measures may be recommended depending on factors such as whether the child is regularly transported for exchanges between Maryland and adjacent states in a manner in which social distancing rules can be adhered to and/or the status of the pandemic in the other state.  If one parent’s access must be curtailed, make-up time should be immediately scheduled for a time when the crisis has passed.  The issues of safety must be balanced by the legal rights of the other parent and the duty to protect the best interests of the children.  The same balance must be struck with regard to joint decision making authority over their children.  Co-parenting in this unprecedented time requires extra effort to share critical information and make joint decisions about how best to protect the child’s health and welfare.  Questions will undoubtedly arise regarding the timing and safety of school, extra-curricular activities, summer camps, vacations, and social events.  It is important to be honest with your co-parent, communicate regularly about the children, be creative about how to rearrange plans and think of new ways to share parenting time with the children which conforms with safety guidelines.  The Maryland Judges recently issued the following statement:

All court orders for a child’s custody, parenting time, and child support are still in effect. In some situations, if permitted under the court order, custodians can jointly adjust their shared parenting responsibilities in ways that they agree are best for the children. If custodians are not able to agree, the court order controls. Working with limited staff, the Circuit Courts are only hearing family law emergencies (custody, child access, visitation, and support) where there is a credible risk of imminent and substantial physical or emotional harm to a child or parent.

However, this statement is not a substitute for a case-by-case assessment of the impact of COVID-19 on custody/visitation/supports issues in a specific case.  Each case is different, and there are specific actions a parent should consider given the circumstances of his/her exact situation.  Advice and Assistance with striking the right co-parenting balance is available through your family law attorneys at Trainor, Billman, Bennet & Milko.

Child Support

Many parents will be filing for unemployment, others may be receiving drastically less income due to their hours or work being cut back and many are also struggling with closed school and day care facilities. The parent who is ordered to pay child support and other expenses should try to provide something, even if it is less than the full amount.  The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances. If the resulting economic downturn results in a material change of circumstances directly effecting the child or children in your family, it will be advisable to discuss a possible modification of child support with your family law attorney here at Trainor, Billman, Bennett, Milko & Smith.

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