These unprecedented times can cause divorced or separated parents who share custodial time feel overwhelmed and concerned about the health and safety of their child. As part of these concerns, the primary custodial parent — also known as the “gatekeeper” — may be reluctant to follow the current visitation schedule. Despite these concerns, it is important to remember not to take matters into your own hands.
Comply with Your Current Custody/Visitation Agreement:
Absent an agreement by both parents or an order of the Court, COVID-19 is not a reason to deny parenting time to the other parent. Orange County Superior Court’s Administrative Order No. 003 provides, “parents are encouraged to communicate about precautions they are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19. A parent is not permitted to deny parenting time based upon the other parent’s unwillingness to discuss their precautionary measures taken, or belief that the other parent’s precautions are insufficient.” In other words, the “gatekeeping” parent should not use the current pandemic as an excuse to withhold the child from the other parent.
Co-parents must remember that the well-being of the child comes first. While co-parenting in the age of social distancing presents its challenges, co-parents must work together to determine a plan that is best for the health and safety of their child. A rule of thumb to always remember is to provide and maintain consistency and stability. The predictability of a routine will help your child feel safe and help establish some sense of normalcy during these unprecedented times.
To the extent that you are able, communicate and collaborate with your co-parent to make arrangements you both agree are reasonable and safe for your child. For instance, if your co-parent lives far away or even in another state and your child typically travels by public transportation for visitations, you may need to arrange alternate transportation or schedule a make-up visit at a later date. If a temporary agreement is reached, be sure to memorialize it in writing. If the temporary arrangement proves to be unsuccessful and/or there are genuine concerns about the health and safety of the child, it may be necessary to seek judicial intervention. However, due to the current pandemic, you should expect to receive significant delays with pending court cases.
If parenting time is ordered to be monitored and the monitor is unavailable due to COVID-19, the co-parents and monitor should collaborate to ensure parenting time continues in a manner that promotes the child’s safety and well being. Consider seeking an alternate monitor. Alternatively, if an alternate monitor is not possible, consider exercising parenting time virtually via FaceTime or increasing the time the child communicates with the co-parent by telephone.
If you are unable to reach an agreement with your co-parent, using the professional services of a mediator may be the best approach. Oftentimes, a neutral outsider’s perspective can go a long way when trying to work out a new custody arrangement or support modification that best suits the co-parents’ needs and the child’s well-being.
Tips for Working Together:
- Keep the lines of communication open.
- Don’t keep score. If one parent has the child an extra day or two, try to remember that this temporary change is because it is in the best interest of the child.
- Refrain from using your child as messenger when communicating with your co-parent about the current custody arrangement or the possibility of a temporary modification. This will likely upset the child and inflame the situation, which is counterproductive.
- Be honest with your co-parent about any exposure to COVID-19 and try to reach an agreement about what steps you each will take to protect the child from exposure.
Amidst the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis, flexibility can go a long way. Try to remember that the pandemic will eventually come to an end.
If you have any questions about how to handle your custody arrangement during these trying times, our team of professionals are happy to provide you with the guidance you need.