As any parent who shares custody of their children will agree, co-parenting involves territory that is often full of gray areas with relatively unclear answers. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic only exasperated this reality and has given parents and family law practitioners alike new terrain to navigate.
Throughout the pandemic, one of the most frequently asked questions has centered around whether custody orders should or must be honored in the face of this global emergency.
The simple answer is yes, as best as possible. The Executive Orders to stay at home issued by the Governor of Virginia specifically exempted travel for complying with custody orders; while not a directive, this certainly lends credence to the belief that courts will impose pre-existing custody orders despite the pandemic. But what happens when one parent has vastly different ideologies about how to best manage the health and safety concerns this pandemic has created? What happens when both parents are remarried and have blended families on both sides, thus increasing the potential exposure across two households?
In a perfect world, parents would be able to communicate these concerns and work together to create a cohesive plan that keeps all impacted households involved safe. An example would be creating a plan together regarding things like childcare, trips to the grocery store, travel, playdates, social distancing, etc. However, the reality is that such communication is not always an option. In such circumstances and depending on the seriousness of the disagreement, an attorney can help advise whether it would be beneficial to seek court intervention through a motion to temporarily modify custody or suspend visitation until both parties can come to an agreement (or the court issues an order) on how to keep everyone safe.
Another issue now facing parents in a shared custody situation is how to handle the school year in 2020-2021. Almost all local jurisdictions have either moved towards virtual learning to start the school year or offered parents a choice between all virtual or a mix of in-person and virtual classrooms. As a result, parents will have to collaborate to decide not only which learning avenue will best suit their children’s needs, but also make arrangements to handle virtual learning while also maintaining employment. In particularly contentious cases or the parents simply cannot agree about the best course of action, seeking court intervention or the appointment of a Guardian ad litem might be useful to provide a neutral, third-party opinion about what would best serve the interests of the children and provide a common ground between parents in the face of such an unprecedented situation.
Regardless of what issues present themselves as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is always best to keep as much communication in writing as possible in the event of a necessary court appearance. The court will always look to the reasonableness and flexibility of both parents in their approach to both the situation and each other in deciding how best to fashion any order regarding the children.
If you want to speak to an attorney, contact us today to help manage or alter your custody or visitation agreement. Contact The Irving Law Firm for legal support today!