The devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy has significantly disrupted the lives of families throughout New Jersey. But for divorced families, there may an extra layer of concern right now involving co-parenting issues. Have impassable roads impacted your child custody arrangements and parenting time? Have you not been in contact with your child since the storm? Have power outages throughout New Jersey closed your place of work and now you are concerned about making this month’s child support payment?
Here are some tips for how to navigate the very difficult aftermath of New Jersey’s worst-ever natural disaster:
Parenting Time: Let’s say that your child custody agreement calls for you to have parenting time after school on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings. However, due to impassable roads, lack of public transit, and long gas lines, it’s now Thursday and you still can’t make it to your former spouse’s home to pick up your child.
What do you do? First of all, keep a log of all parenting time missed due to the hurricane. Then, if you have access to it right now, look over the child custody agreement the two of you reached during your divorce. Is there a clause addressing what happens to child custody during an emergency or natural disaster? If so, there is usually guidance on how to proceed in the future to recoup this time, or details on the contingency arrangement the two of you agreed upon at the time.
Don’t see any mention of child custody changes in the event of an emergency? Once things have settled down, talk to your spouse about perhaps coming to an agreement that would allow you an extra weekend or a few extra days to make up for this missed time.
Your Child’s Needs: No matter which parent your child is with right now, the priority for your child is to feel safe and secure. While adults may be focused on getting the power back on and finding out when the roads will be cleared so they can get back to work, children are more likely to be focused on the people in their lives: Is their other parent okay? What about their friends? Based on their access to media images, children may even wonder, is their “other home” still there?
Even if you and your former spouse still feel anger and resentment towards one another, put your children first right now by making sure they have some sort of contact with the other parent, even if it’s just a text or a brief cell call. Hearing or seeing “I’m okay!” from their parent can be critical for a child’s state of mind, and well worth putting aside any personal differences you and your spouse still have.
Keeping Up With Child Support: We’re all hoping that the power will be back on soon and business will resume as usual. If you have now missed at least four days of work, you may be concerned about the state of your finances this month. Generally, unless there is a formal modification made by the courts, consider yourself obligated to pay your usual amount of child support. If you lost work and pay because of the disaster, according to FEMA, you may qualify for Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA). Contact your local unemployment office or FEMA office for more information. Please note that FEMA will not directly pay child support, alimony, or mortgage payments.
Wherever you are right now, we hope that you are safe and that the damage and discomforts your family has experienced as the result of Hurricane Sandy have been slight!