IMPACT OF COVID-19 ON CHILD CUSTODY AND CHILD SUPPORT
In the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic families are left to struggle with serious issues that none of us ever contemplated. Schools have announced they will not reopen for the remainder of the Spring 2020 semester, leaving working parents to care for their children. All children’s sports and activities have been cancelled. Families are practicing social distancing and spending their days together inside the home.
Families are trying to protect not only their children but their loved ones who are the most vulnerable to the virus. And what if it is the non-custodial parent who is vulnerable? What if one of the parents is a health care worker? What if one of the parents lives with elderly family members? What about those parents whose work situation has been significantly impacted? What rights does the noncustodial parent have over the custodial parent’s actions? What are the custodial parent’s obligations in these situations? Do these constitute “emergency” situations justifying an immediate hearing before a family law judge?
Spring break visitation and travel plans have been disrupted and it is possible that summer plans may also be impacted. And what of those situations where the child/children must travel a long distance to visit the other parent? It may seem that your current court order offers little or no guidance for these concerns. How should you navigate your custody and visitation arrangements during this time? The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts disseminated some general guidelines to assist families that are outlined below.
First, and most important is to stay healthy and safe by following all local, state, and CDC guidelines regarding hand-washing, ensuring surfaces stay clean, and social distancing. And don’t forget about mental and emotional health. Be aware of how you are talking about the situation in front of your child/ children. Stay calm, exhibit a positive attitude, and have truthful, age-appropriate conversations with your child/children. Openly share information with the other parent, especially regarding information about exposure to the virus by your child/children or family members.
Follow the current court order regarding custody and visitation, to the extent you can. If for example, the child/children are unable to visit the non-custodial parent because travel is required, the parties should arrange for that time to be made-up once circumstances allow. Be generous about allowing the other parent makeup visitation time. Encourage your child/children to maintain contact with the other parent by utilizing communication tools such as WhatsApp and FaceTime.
At some point your actions may be brought before a family law judge and if you have failed to act with the best interests of your child/children, if you are inflexible in these challenging times, and if you are unreasonable, it could negatively impact your custody arrangement in future litigation before a family law judge.
This situation is causing a financial hardship on many families. If the parent paying child support is impacted they should attempt to make at least some payment, keeping in mind that their actions may very well be evaluated in the future by a family law judge. Likewise, the parent to whom support is owed should try to be accommodating in these extraordinary circumstances. If you are paying child support and your income has been reduced, you should file to modify your child support as soon as possible since modifications are backdated to the date of filing, not the date your income changed. This means unless you immediately file, you could be held accountable for your full child support obligation. Child support is modifiable so you should contact an attorney to discuss your options.
If you are a parent and believe the other parent is violating the court order, what are your options if you have tried to negotiate but the other parent is acting unreasonable? Your ability to go to court is limited since family law courts in Virginia and Maryland are not scheduling cases unless they involve an emergency where relief is necessary to prevent imminent and substantial physical or psychological harm to a child.
In those cases where you need to file a child support modification or child custody modification you should file as soon as possible to avoid the backlog of cases once the court opens.
If you have a concern about your situation contact me today to schedule a time for us to discuss ways I might be able to assist you.