When a couple decides to separate, and they have children, it’s always a good idea to draw up a temporary custody plan.
Temporary child custody spells out where the couple’s children will live and how much time they will spend with each parent in the period before the couple’s divorce, or the couple’s reconciliation.
But here is where COVID-19 enters the picture, and if you are a separated parent, where you need to watch out that you are not about to make a huge mistake.
Don’t Put Your Parenting Time in Peril
As you map out custody and parenting time around the obstacles of school closures and social distancing, your child could end up spending time much more time with one parent due to sheer logistics.
If this is the case in your situation, WARNING! DANGER AHEAD lights need to now go off because your ex could attempt to use the temporary plan to establish that you are comfortable with limited contact with your child. This may especially be a risk if conflict in your custody matter runs high.
Don’t get caught out with a parenting plan that could be used against you.
Can you avoid this pitfall? The good news: Absolutely.
Follow these steps:
Scenario 1: You Already Have a Temporary Parenting Plan
Take a look at your current plan for any guidance it might contain on establishing an emergency parenting time schedule. Like school vacation and summer parenting schedules, an emergency plan applies only to certain fixed scenarios or time periods. To protect parental rights, the emergency plan should:
- Include an ironclad disclaimer statement that the emergency schedule only applies to the emergency situation at hand and is temporary. Your attorney will be able to provide the exact wording needed for the current COVID-19 crisis.
- Note a specific cut off of “ending when the emergency ends,” or other date or event. A coronavirus emergency parenting plan, for example, could end when regular school goes back in session or Governor Murphy officially ends the State of Emergency, or one or both parents return to the workplace. Clearly note your intentions.
- Provide “virtual parenting time” for the non-residential parent, such as Facetime, if in-person co-parenting time must be limited during the emergency.
- Be a plan that is mutually agreed upon by both parents. If your ex does not agree, mediation is another option to help you work through and reach agreeable terms, or you can (virtually) go to court.
Scenario 2: You Are Establishing a Parenting Plan for the First Time
If you are separated recently and are just establishing a parenting time plan during this unusual time, you need to future-proof your time with your kids by creating a temporary custody plan that covers:
- Parenting time under “normal conditions”; for most parents, the bulk of the year revolves around the 10-month school term. Parents typically agree to a school year schedule that provides for a consistent rhythm in how the child spends time with each parent.
- Summer and school vacation/holiday schedules to cover the rest of the year. Some parents agree that children will spend more time with the non-residential parent during school breaks, especially if that parent lives far away and a concentrated chunk of parenting time makes practical sense. Holidays, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, may be rotated between parents, or other arrangements made.
- Emergencies. The parenting time plan can establish what parenting time looks like during an exigent situation, how decisions will be made, and includes iron clad disclaimer wording that emergency parenting time is temporary and applies only during the duration of the emergency.
- Emergency plans should include “virtual parenting time” for the non-residential parent if in-person co-parenting time must be temporarily limited. This can include Skyping a nightly bedtime story, playing online video games together, FaceTiming to help with school assignments, making fun short videos to send each other…there are endless possibilities. Be clear about how much virtual time is expected.
- The temporary custody plan should mutually agreed upon by both parents. If parents can not agree, mediation is another option to help reach terms. In some situations, the parents may need to go to court. Make an appointment (phone call or virtual meeting) with a family law attorney to get help on creating your plan.
With all the uncertainty right now, being there to support and connect with your child — in any possible way — gives them a greater feeling of security. Having the right temporary custody plan in place can make all the difference.
Ready to put together a temporary custody plan that safeguards your relationship with your kids? You are invited to schedule an online video call with one of our family lawyers to learn your rights and best options. Please call us today at 888-888-0919, or please click the button below. We are here to help.