COVID-19 has presented practically all New York residents with economic and social challenges. Schools and nonessential businesses that cannot operate online remain closed, which means that divorced couples with children are facing parenting challenges that they could not have anticipated at the time of separation.
Below is an overview of some general do’s and don’ts for co-parenting during the pandemic. Some are straightforward, while others may have to be handled with assistance from an attorney.
DO continue to pay child support
If a child support order is in place, then you cannot unilaterally change or end its terms because your income was affected by the pandemic. If you are able to make your scheduled payments, then you must continue to do so.
However, if your workplace closed or reduced your hours substantially, it may not be possible to meet your child support obligations. Many New Yorkers are in occupations that can’t be transferred to a remote setting, which is why there have been millions of unemployment claims filed.
New York law allows an existing child support order to be modified if there has been a significant change in your material circumstances. If pandemic-related job loss has left you struggling to pay child support while meeting your own necessary living expenses, then contact a New York family law attorney about seeking a modification. The effective date of the modification will be as of the filing of the petition to modify. It is important to file as quickly as possible.
DON’T deny the other parent access to the children
This is a frightening time for everyone, and no one will blame you if you don’t want to send your children outside the safety of your home to visit their other parent. However, if you refuse to abide by the current parenting time order, you could end up facing contempt charges. You may be able to defend a willful violation charge by saying that the other parent is putting the children in danger, but you will incur attorney’s fees and still possibly face penalties if you lose.
If you are hesitant about allowing visitation during COVID-19, it is generally recommended that you follow the court order unless there is evidence that doing so would create a risk of serious harm to the children. (For example, your ex’s roommate has been diagnosed with coronavirus). If this is the case, contact a family law attorney immediately. Otherwise, resist the urge to change the rules, as consequences can be harsh for parents who try to violate a co-parent’s rights. If you want to file a modification to the visitation order, then do so quickly.
DO be flexible
There may be times when you’re tempted to let stress guide your actions and decisions. Routines have disappeared practically overnight. You’re working from home (or not working at all), and the kids are no longer in school. In the face of all this upheaval, you’re likely to be more reactive than normal.
Unless your ex is the high-conflict type who needs to be constantly reminded of boundaries, take a cooperative and flexible approach to co-parenting during the pandemic. The kids are already feeling anxious and unsettled due to the extended change to their routine, and seeing their parents work together to keep them feeling safe and loved will make a huge difference in how they fare during the lockdown.
DON’T fail to communicate
If either household is in quarantine or your ex lives a considerable distance away, communication becomes more important than ever. If the children live with you, encourage them to call, text, FaceTime, Skype or Zoom their other parent as often as they want. If any of the kids are still young, make a mutual resolution to discuss the virus situation only in ways that are age-appropriate. Regular and reassuring communications will make it easier for them to cope.
DO notify the other parent if a child becomes sick
If you’re the noncustodial parent and one of the children gets sick, then call, text or email the other parent immediately. If the illness turns out to be COVID-19, then the next step is social isolation during medical treatment, which can make it difficult (if not impossible) for the child to go home speak to your medical provider for medical advice.
Your ex should be understanding about the situation and accept that the children should stay with you until they recover. If they aren’t, and demand that you make the kids available for pickup immediately, call a New York child custody attorney who can help you take appropriate action, which may include an emergency custody modification petition or order to show cause.
DO consult with an attorney if problems arise
The pandemic has presented all of us with questions and dilemmas that have no precedent, legal and otherwise. However, when social distancing and quarantine protocols interfere with court-ordered child custody and support arrangements, don’t risk violating the orders because doing so makes the most sense for now. Consult with a New York family law attorney who can help you seek emergency modifications that let you adjust to this changed situation so that you don’t face unfair consequences when the courts resume.
About Jayson Lutzky
Jayson Lutzky has been practicing law in New York State for over 37 years. He primarily handles divorce, family law, personal bankruptcy, personal injury and medical malpractice cases. Jayson is fluent in both English and Spanish. He is a member of the Bronx County Bar Association, is admitted to the Federal Court for the Southern and Eastern Districts of New York and has received numerous awards. In 2000, Jayson won the President’s Pro Bono Service Attorney Award from the New York State Bar Association and also received recognition from the Network for Women’s Service Commitment to Justice Award. Recently, Jayson won recognition from Martindale-Hubbell and AVVO. Jayson is also an arbitrator in the Small Claims Part in the Civil Court of New York in the evenings and has served on the Board of Trustees of the Greenburgh Hebrew Center as well serving as its President. Jayson attended Union College in Schenectady, New York where he received his Bachelor’s degree and graduated with honors in 1979. Jayson attended the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University, New York and graduated in 1982 with a law degree.
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