How Will Mandatory COVID-19 Quarantines Affect Divorced Co-Parents?
You live you in New Jersey, but your ex lives in Delaware where you child has been for visitation over the past few weeks. Now your child is set to return from time with their other parent. But there’s just one problem you’ll deal to deal with first — COVID-19 quarantine.
This week, Governor Murphy came out with a list of even more states with high COVID-19 rates that are now placed under a travel advisory. According to the Governor’s updated guidance, anyone traveling to New Jersey from the following states should self-quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival here:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- North Dakota
- South Carolina
As NJ Family reports, the travel advisory applies to both visitors to New Jersey from out of state and New Jersey residents returning home after travel in these states.
This includes New Jersey children visiting or traveling with one of their parents or relatives or attending camp in a high COVID case number state, and attempting to return home.
Understandably, divorced parents have questions about how the travel advisory will impact their parenting time and custody plans. Who should quarantine with your child — you or your ex? How will this impact future parenting time? Can you object to your child traveling to these high COVID case number states? Let’s look at some possible answers…
Q: My ex’s parenting time with our child took place in a state now under the travel advisory. How can I plan for my child’s return?
A: If you haven’t already, share the news of the travel advisory for quarantine with your ex as soon as possible. One or both of you may have work and other commitments that will need to be juggled to accommodate the quarantine. You need to get on the same page about what to do as soon as you can.
The Governor’s order states: “Travelers and residents returning from impacted states should self-quarantine at their home, a hotel, or other temporary lodging. Individuals should only leave the place of self-quarantine to seek medical care/treatment or to obtain food and other essential items. As one example, no one who has traveled to or from a state on the COVID-19 hotspot list should be participating in or attending an in-person graduation ceremony.”
So with these guidelines in mind, you may need to get creative in how you deal with your child’s return. First, talk to your ex about timing. Would it be more practical for both of you if your ex returned to New Jersey now and remained with your child in an isolated setting for the 14 days? One popular option this summer is RV travel since it is transportation and lodging in one, reducing contact. Could your ex rent an RV and then use this as quarantine lodging? You could help out by delivering food and other necessities. Do you have a guest house or separate place on your property where they could isolate?
If your ex wishes to keep the current parenting time as is and then wants to also quarantine with your child in New Jersey for the 14 days (essentially extending their time with the child for 14 days), carefully note this change in parenting time, should you agree to it. Even in an emergency situation, it is important that both parents sign off on temporary changes that give more time to one or the other parent.
On the flip side, is your ex refusing to change the plan and wants the quick drop off at the conclusion of their time, as originally planned? The Governor’s Order does not apply to those “passing through New Jersey on a layover for a period of limited duration (i.e. less than 24 hours) through the course of travel,” so in that situation, your ex can come and go in a day for drop off and not be required to quarantine.
But this means that your child’s quarantine may fall completely on your shoulders. Will you need to rearrange your work schedule? Do you have any high risk family members who can temporary live with other relatives, or can you rearrange your home to provide your child with ample space away from others? Can you and your child stay in a hotel? However you plan to self isolate at home, make sure to create a detailed record of what you do and the costs involved.
Can you force your ex to return now to start the 14 days? The courts will want to see a compelling reason why this would be in your child’s best interests, i.e., has your ex or others in their household tested positive for Covid-19? If you and your ex can’t see eye to eye on a plan for how to handle quarantine, it’s a good time to speak with your attorney about your rights.
Q: My ex has plans to travel to Disney World in Florida when it’s his time with the kids next week. Can I prevent him from going on this trip since A. Florida has exploded with COVID-19 cases and B. He will need to quarantine the kids for 14 days upon return and I don’t think that’s fair to them.
A: New Jersey’s order states that “New Jersey welcomes travel to and from our state,” so this is different from the US State Department Travel Advisories we are accustomed to seeing that advise against travel to certain places. Nothing in the order prohibits traveling. With that said, your concerns are certainly valid. You can talk to your ex and discuss your reasons for not wanting the kids to travel. Can the big trip be postponed to next year? Can your ex look into local alternatives like Six Flags? If your ex refuses to budge, ask them to detail their plans for keeping the kids safe. Does your ex have masks and hand sanitizer? Do they know about the important of frequent hand washing and social distancing?
If any of your children have health issues, this warrants deeper discussion and possible court intervention. Is it in the best interests of an immunocompromised child to travel from New Jersey where COVID-19 rates are flat to a place with record COVID cases, like Florida, and go to a crowded theme park? An objecting parent could have recourse in showing records of the child’s health conditions or that the child is “high-risk” and that it would not be in the child’s best interests to travel to a COVID hot spot for these reasons.
You can talk to a lawyer about the steps to take for an emergency injunction in situations where you feel the other parent is endangering the children. Your lawyer can help you understand the factors looked for by the courts.
Q: I moved to California after our divorce and normally have parenting time for the month of August. We’ve decided that our child will stay put in New Jersey due to COVID. How do I get back this lost parenting time?
A: If you haven’t done so already, please get any change of parenting time in writing, noting what’s changed and that it is a temporary change solely due to COVID. [Read more about emergency parenting time plan changes.]
Your written plan can also include the agreement that you and your ex come to about how you will get back lost time. Can you receive extra school vacations or extended holidays with your kids in 2021 to balance out lost time this summer? In the meantime, you can connect with your child virtually and play online games together, watch a Netflix movie together in an interactive format (look for the Netflix plugin for this feature), and even sign up for parent & child group exercise or cooking classes.
Q: I have primary custody of my child who is due to visit with her other parent next week in a state with high COVID-19 rates. I have compromised immunity and am at high risk for having a severe case of COVID-19. Can I postpone my ex’s parenting time until sometime in the future?
A: As a first step, contact your child’s other parent and explain the situation. You will need to offer make up visitation days, perhaps taking place when your ex’s state is removed from the quarantine list. You could also plan for your ex to return to New Jersey and supervise your child’s 14 day quarantine. If you come to an agreement, get this plan in writing. If your ex refuses to negotiate, you could petition the courts for the request, providing details about your health risks and willingness to make up time later. One thing to avoid: Do not refuse or block your ex’s parenting time. You could be accused of contempt of court order, or even parental kidnapping (depending on the circumstances).
Q: Our kids are supposed to go to summer camp in Delaware. Can I do anything to stop this since Delaware is on the quarantine list and they will need to quarantine for 14 days upon their return? I was supposed to have parenting time for the two weeks after camp and don’t want to spend that time in quarantine.
A: A divorced parent’s say in whether or not a child attends camp is generally dependent on the legal custody arrangement. Legal custody pertains to making choices for the child related to activities such as attending camp and school, religious upbringing and medical care.
Does your co-parent have sole legal custody? If so, that parent is legally entitled to make the decision about whether the child attends camp, so long as the camp does not overlap with the other parent’s time with the child. Because of the 14-quarantine, you may have recourse that going to camp this year unfairly impinges on your parenting time. Or, another option is to make a change to your parenting time plan that starts your two weeks of parenting time only after they have finished the quarantine.
Co-parents with shared legal custody will need to be on the same page with camp attendance, but you still have options. Go to our blog “COVID-19: What Happens When Co-Parents Disagree About Summer Camp?” for more details.
If you have questions about COVID-19 and co-parenting and custody, we can help. Schedule an initial consultation to discuss your situation and get clear legal advice. To schedule your virtual appointment (phone or video call — your choice) contact us today by calling 888-888-0919, or please click the green button below.