By Beth Andersen
The COVID-19 pandemic is a global crisis that affects everyone. Courts are addressing urgencies, often from home and with skeleton staff. Absent an actual emergency or endangerment, both parents must co-parent cooperatively without court help, because the court may not be available.
I understand this is not so easy. If you need immediate help or advice on any legal issue related to co-parenting (during COVID-19 quarantine or otherwise), call or text my cell phone at 303-808-4794 and I will call you back as soon as I can for a free consult and get you in the right direction.
Meanwhile, here is guidance for several common issues related to co-parenting during the COVID-19 quarantine.
- Children CAN Go Back and Forth Between Both Homes: This is NOT “winner-take-all” with the parent who had the child(ren) when the quarantine started exercising exclusive parenting time until the quarantine ends. Travel pursuant to court order is allowed. Absent a home member or child being infected or exposed to the coronavirus, the children should continue their usual parenting schedule. It does make sense to cut back exchanges for longer stays in both homes (maintaining the same parenting time) IF you can by agreement. But changes to the parenting plan usually are not required for convenience. You may be the exception but this is the general rule.
- Reread and Follow Your Parenting Plan and Court Orders: Read your parenting plan and court orders. Follow them. Again, absent emergency or endangerment, those agreements apply and need to be followed. You may even find some helpful language as to how to communicate, make decisions and handle exchanges when emergencies arise.
- Safety First: If a child or parent is facing physical endangerment, significant risk of psychological impairment, illness, abuse, neglect, criminal behavior or other similar emergencies, you may need court help. Protection order hearings, motions to restrict parenting time, and criminal proceedings are continuing. You CAN get emergency court help if needed. You can also get emergency health care as needed. Remember: emergencies ARE things like having a child, parent or housemate who is sick with COVID-19. Emergencies are NOT having a parent who is healthy but simply works in a field where they are on the front lines or in an essential business and working. If in doubt, call me for a free consult on your issue.
- Each Family is Unique: Your family may have unique experiences not addressed by the usual rules. This is not one-size-fits-all. Again, I am happy to hear the facts of your specific situation and give you a free consult.
- Communicate, Communicate, Communicate: Unless the other party says, “Stop reaching out to me,” or you have a protection order or other restrictions, keep in touch using means such as Our Family Wizard, Talking Parents, Civil Communicator, or even old school email. Listen to the other point of view so you have the facts. Keep kids out of disputes but DO keep them in touch with the other parent using video chats, calls, etc. Definitely do NOT hide an exposure to COVID-19 or a positive test.
- Respect Safety Norms: In our office, I accommodate the client and staff members MOST concerned about safety precautions. I know I will have less pushback from erring on the side of caution than from even one client or staff member feeling unsafe. Parents should do the same. You probably will NOT get in trouble with the other parent for following quarantine rules, keeping safe distancing, wearing masks or gloves in the store, or staying home. You risk being questioned if you disregard the rules. Do not put your parenting time in jeopardy by taking these risks. Definitely do NOT tell your child not to let the other parent know.
- Stay Sober: Your kids are around you all day. They are going to smell weed and notice an intoxicated parent. This is not to say you cannot responsibly use legal drugs and alcohol. Just be a bit more careful because we are all together a lot more now than ever. Added stress brings temptation with it. Again, do not risk parenting time due to an inability to limit drug and alcohol use now that your kids are in the house full-time. Err on the side of caution. If either parent is expected to engage in UAs, etc., that obligation continues during quarantine. Testing sites remain open and available.Limit your kids’ usage too. For example, 18-year-olds are not allowed to have marijuana and alcohol, even now that they are home full time. Follow the rules or risk losing parenting time.
- Keep Up with School Requirements: Home schooling is not easy but it is expected that children keep up in school during the quarantine. Stay on top of deadlines. Reach out to other parents, teachers and local resources as needed. Do not be afraid to ask for help. Later, you will be held accountable for your child falling behind during your parenting time, so resist the temptation to let homework slide during your time.
- Monitor Mental Health: Many young people are struggling with depression and anxiety due to the crisis. Again, reach out to resources for help for your children and you. Read my blog on depression in children of divorce. Call Jefferson County Mental Health or a crisis line if you need help. Also, medical help, online therapy and prescriptions can be filled during this time. We are moving past the days when people were punished for getting help for mental health and into a more enlightened era where getting help is considered a sign of good parenting.
- Be Proactive About Income and Budgeting: Almost everyone is facing financial hardship right now. Courts are not going to rush you to the front of the line to get out of your child support, maintenance or other financial obligations. Nor will they rush you into court to get your funds from the other parent. We need to try to earn income and budget now if we can because it may take time to get those child support modifications, maintenance modifications, motions to enforce and contempt motions. Those who try hard to find work and to stay within their budget are going to do better financially now and better legally when these issues do go to court. The judge will want to see that you did what you could to work and keep your finances in order.
- Filing Non-Emergency Motions and Petitions Is Allowed: You definitely should file emergency motions if needed. Also, you ARE allowed to file for divorce or allocation of responsibility. You also are allowed, during quarantine, to file non-emergency child support and maintenance motions IF you have a substantial and continuing change of circumstances warranting roughly a 10% or more change in the obligation. Especially because such motions are usually modifiable back to the date of a change in parenting or the date of filing, you may want to file to preserve the date of modification. Just understand your motion may take some time to be heard.In the interim, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers suggests continuing to pay as much as you can in child support and maintenance. This is a very case-specific issue, however. I suggest you call me at my cell 303-808-4794 for a free consult on the issue.
- Private Judges and Mediators are a Great Option: With courts on a slow schedule and soon-to-be overloaded post-quarantine schedule, you may want to consider private decision-makers such as private judges who will work on your case and your case alone.Mediators also are doing video mediation, including our mediators at Andersen Law PC. We also can look at your mediation agreements or check in by email, cell or text while you mediate by video. Get a jump start on the rush by trying these options that I am happy to explain by phone.
- Put the Child(ren) First: Do I even have to say this? I hope not but am saying it anyway. Our firm’s prime directive is never harm a child. Colorado law is the same: Among the many criteria courts examine are the parents’ ability to put the best interests of the child first. Most judges have developed an uncanny radar for spotting parents trying to manipulate things like a global crisis to disrupt another parent’s time with the child. Do not do this. You will probably get caught. More importantly, you risk harming the person who needs you most in the world, now more than ever: your child.
- Follow the Latest Updates: Government guidelines are changing daily. Make sure you are acting on the latest versions. You do not want file a contempt demanding a tax return by April 15 when that deadline has been extended. You do not want to berate your ex for working in an essential profession or using daycare if it is allowed under current guidelines. You do not want to make fun of your children’s face masks when the governor suggested them. Stay informed.For help with these and other family law issues, contact Andersen Law PC at 720-922-3880 or call or text my cell at 303- 808-4794 for a free consult.