Family Law Expert Bari Z. Weinberger Answers Coronavirus Custody & Divorce Questions

The coronavirus has turned life upside down, and we’ve heard from so many of you with serious questions…about your custody situation and time with your kids, your divorce, and other family law matters. 

What if your ex is refusing to follow your custody order? 

What if you get sick…who’s going to take care of your child?

What if you can’t keep up with support payments? 

And if you’re getting divorced, how do you deal with court delays? 

Watch family law expert Bari Z. Weinberger answer these pressing questions, and more. Prefer to read? A transcript of her video is below.

Can we help you? Call us at 888-888-0919 to speak with an attorney for an initial consultation. Phone or video consultations are available.

Expert Answers To Your COVID-19 Custody & Divorce Questions [Video Transcript]

I know so many of you out there are worried and feeling anxious, so I want to go through some of the questions we’ve been receiving to give you real information that you can use… 

Q: What should our emergency parenting time plan be? 

A: With the upheaval that many parents and children are experiencing, with traditional school canceled and so many of you working from home, it makes practical sense that parents may need a temporary arrangement to get through this time. To create a temporary parenting time plan, you and your child’s other parent can absolutely create a schedule that works for all of you. Now more than ever people are coming together and making compromises.

If in-person co-parenting time needs to be limited for the non-custodial parent due to certain logistics, your plan should offer plenty of “virtual parenting time” for the parent missing out, such as frequent phone calls and FaceTime- even zoom style story telling for instance. This continued contact can be extremely important for helping your child feel secure. 

You want to get this plan in writing and be sure to note these changes are only temporary. This is separate from your usual schedule. Your family law attorney can help you draft this plan and ensure it protects your time with your kids. One thing I can tell you for certain is that some of my clients have actually already made progress with their child’s other parent and effective communication about new scheduling during this time has been a surprising reality!

Q: What if my ex is a healthcare worker? Can I stop parenting time?

A: Unless your ex is sick or has been exposed to COVID-19 and is required to quarantine, it is recommended that you follow your parenting time schedule as it currently stands. Of course you are concerned and you only want to protect your children. Just remember that withholding the kids from seeing the other parent could land you in legal hot water. 

Consider reaching out to the other parent and express the concerns you have, and suggest some alternatives, including “virtual parenting” via facetime during this limited period. The other parent should not want to place the children in harm’s way if there is a legitimate risk. There is a good chance that you can have a reasonable discussion and create a temporary plan.

You can also agree to certain contingencies: for instance – If your ex does get sick or needs to quarantine, you can plan that you will keep the kids with you during what would otherwise be your ex’s parenting time and offer some make-up time for when your ex recovers. Your attorney can help you write this up. The goal of course is to make sure that the children’s best interests are maintained and that they are safe.

Q: What do I do if I feel unwell and my ex is unavailable to care for the kids?

A: You can plan ahead now by establishing a special kind of Power of Attorney that names a legal guardian. In the event you are not feeling well and your former spouse is unable to take care of the children, a Limited Power of Attorney may be your best route. This type of POA grants an individual only certain rights to act in a particular area and can have a time limit which expires. This can include naming a legal guardian during the COVID-19 emergency.

You want to choose a guardian for your child wisely and be sure they are willing and able to take care of your children. 

If no POA is in place, and you get sick and your co-parent is unavailable to take on full-time care of the kids, a relative willing to step in can go to the courts and be appointed as a kinship legal guardian. 

Q: My ex is keeping the kids until this is over. Can I get back” this lost parenting time in the future?

A: If you have decided to postpone in-person parenting time during the pandemic, there are certainly things that you can do to make sure missed time with kids is reinstated or made up once the crisis is over. In the event you are unable to see your kids for a substantial period of time, you can request more summer vacation time with your child, or extra random weekends to be built in.  Think also about those Monday holidays off such as President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day and so on – get creative and recognize that those days add up for good quality time. 

You may want to implement just how you intend to make up lost time as part of creating your emergency plan.

Q: We separated and have no formal parenting plan at all. How do I get one? 

A: To protect your rights and time with your children, a written custody plan is essential. A custody agreement will outline how much time your child will spend with each of you, and also provide guidance on how decision making for your child will be handled, including how medical decisions will be made. This responsibility may fall to one parent or be shared.  Especially now it’s important to have these terms spelled out.

If you do enter into a custody agreement at this time, be sure to note any temporary modifications to parenting time you are making related to the COVID-19 emergency. While we all pray that this situation will end soon, having a plan in place is meaningful. 

An attorney can help you create a comprehensive written parenting time arrangement in the form of a Consent Order for you to discuss with your spouse. Once an agreement has been reached, your attorney can then file this document with the Court to have it deemed an enforceable order. 

Q:  This year I was supposed to have Easter holiday time with my kids, but had to miss it because we agreed it was a bad idea to shuttle the kids back and forth given the lockdown order. How can I get this time back?

A: If you mutually made the decision to keep the kids in one house this year, causing you to miss on scheduled time, you and your child’s co-parent can create a written plan to make up for this time in the future.

Perhaps this year you can have an extra long Memorial Day or Fourth of July weekend with your kids, or get added time in the summer whenever it works out best. If you and your child’s co-parent agree to a plan, you can write it up and have your attorney review. You always want to put any changes to your parenting time plan in writing, even if it’s only temporary.

WATCH: Missed Easter & Passover with kids? Bari Z. Weinberger discusses how to get back lost holiday parenting time with kids. 

Q: What options do I have for keeping my divorce on track? 

A: To keep your divorce moving along as smoothly as possible during this uncertain time, you and your spouse may want to consider mediation or a collaborative divorce instead of litigation. Now that almost all of the NJ courts are physically closed statewide, virtual proceedings are taking place, the courts are generally backed up and scheduling of hearings is very limited. 

So what does this mean for you?  Candidly – it could take a while before your case is heard. However, when you opt for mediation or collaborative divorce —you have much more control over the process as they are both out-of-court methods to handle your case. You can schedule virtual mediation sessions at times that are convenient for all of you to keep the process moving forward. 

Mediation and collaborative divorce are each low conflict methods of divorce, saving you stress compared to the adversarial nature of court litigation. It can also save on the costs involved in divorce and who doesn’t like the idea of preserving funds? Speak with your attorney about whether mediation is right for your divorce, or you can schedule a virtual appointment with a mediator to learn more.  

Q: I had to close my family business and currently have no real income. Can I stop alimony and child support payments? 

A: When there is a significant change in circumstances, such as a loss of income, you can go to the courts to file for a modification of your support payment obligations. Depending on your situation, this may be appropriate. However, you don’t want to stop paying unless and until you have a formal order or agreement allowing for this to take place. There may also be ways to work out temporary suspensions of payment or reductions during the pandemic period by entering into consent orders with the other side.     

To understand your best options, it’s a good idea to speak with an attorney. You can request an initial consultation to learn about your rights and choices.

I sincerely hope this question and answer series has been helpful to you as you make decisions in your own custody, parenting and divorce matters. 

I want to let you know — we are here for you and you are certainly not alone! 

You can contact us to schedule your attorney consultation. It can be done via video conferencing or over the phone. 

The attorney you speak with will give you feedback and answers specific to your situation. 

If you are going through any kind of family law matter, please get in contact with us. You can call us at 888-888-0919, or fill out our simple contact form. 

To everyone watching, and your children and families, I am wishing you all good health and safety. Thank you for joining me.  

Please be well and take care.

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