Based on the latest from Governor Murphy on the anticipated end for the COVID-19 lockdown, things are gradually improving in New Jersey, but we still appear to be weeks away from anything resembling a “return to normal.”
What does this mean for divorced co-parents who have been juggling temporary changes to their child custody plans since the pandemic began? Signs point to the juggle needing to continue for now, and possibly until school starts again in the fall.
So for you and your ex, it’s a good time to check in on your COVID-19 custody and parenting time plans. Are you ready for coronavirus co-parenting for the long haul?
As you get your game together, here are some tips and ideas for smoother co-parenting through the remainder of lockdown and beyond.
Make the most of custody flexibility
Some divorced co-parents have called this the “silver lining” of the COVID lockdown: With parents both at home from work, and kids doing schooling at home, flexibility in parenting time arrangements has never been easier.
Rather than school week/weekend swaps, co-parents who are otherwise stuck at home are doing informal mid-week parenting time exchanges that otherwise would have been impractical. Some amicable co-parents with shared custody are getting so efficient at this that they have reached an almost perfect 50/50 equal split in custody time each week, rotating as frequently as every other day.
If you have this kind of arrangement, and it’s working for all of you, keep it up! If you don’t, talk to your co-parent it would like to give it a try. Kids seem to love it because it’s helping to break up their own monotony, and they are getting good quality time with both their parents. Remember to put any temporary change in parenting time in writing and have it reviewed by your attorney.
It is also important to note that if you have high risk family members or household members working at essential jobs that present coronavirus exposure risk, or other circumstances, frequent custody rotations may not be in your child’s best interests.
Easing coronavirus co-parenting emergency plans
Divorced parents who are doctors, nurses, EMTs, and others working on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis may have voluntarily given up some or all of their parenting time over the past several weeks.
It has been such a difficult time. However, as the crisis begins to wane, co-parents need to start thinking and talking about re-establishing normal parenting time routines, and what this will look like.
If you signed a temporary co-parenting agreement when all this started, take a look to see if it notes an end date. (It may give a hard date, i.e., May 15; or say something like, “This agreement is good until New Jersey’s state of emergency is lifted,”) Or there may be no end date listed and you will both need to come to an agreement.
If your ex is resistant to easing back into your normal schedule, or won’t work with you to formulate a plan for the transition, consult with your attorney for your best options. You have rights to your kids, and your attorney will be able to walk you through your options for protecting them, including possible court enforcement.
Establishing a Child Power of Attorney in case you get sick
Risk for coronavirus may linger into the summer, and is predicted to possibly return in the fall and next winter. What will happen to your children should you fall ill and are unable to care for them, and your ex is unavailable to take over 100% care?
The NJ Dept. of Children and Families (DCF) is now recommending parents put a Child Power of Attorney in place naming a temporary guardian for the child. If the parent falls ill with COVID-19 and no temporary guardian has been established, the child may be put in foster care. DCF wants to avoid this potential overload of the foster care system by having parents name a guardian of their own choosing. Here is more information about how to establish a Child Power of Attorney to name a temporary legal guardian.
Creating a coronavirus co-parenting recovery plan
To get ahead of the game, co-parents need to face facts that this summer may be different due to the continued need for social distancing. Camps and other programs kids typically take part in may not be available in the same way. Travel and taking vacations may also be limited as the recovery unfolds.
It is prudent for co-parents to sit down now to create a potential temporary summertime parenting plan that reflects all the possibilities. If your kids’ usual summer activities — sports, camps, vacations, summer school — end up being limited, postponed or cancelled, how can you and your co-parent crate a parenting time schedule to address this? If one or both of you return to working outside the home, what are your best childcare options? Can each parent cover time when the other cannot, or can you enlist the help of a grandparent to help? Your attorney is able to assist you with best options and writing up a temporary summer schedule.
With lockdowns planned to begin loosening in May and June, it’s also important that parents who lost special parenting time over over the past months have a way to start getting it back. Did you or your ex give up their scheduled Passover or Easter with the kids? As you look at your summer schedule, maybe this time can be added back with the parent getting the kids for Memorial Day weekend, Independence Day, or Labor Day weekend. [Watch a video from Bari Weinberger on making up lost holiday time.]
Do you have questions about the road ahead and what your parenting time with your kids should look like? Is your ex fighting with your over custody due to coronavirus concerns? Want to get back time you lost with your kids?
We can help. To protect your relationship with your kids, make a virtual appointment with one of our trusted family law attorneys — via video or phone (your choice) — and learn your rights and get answers to all your questions. To set up your meeting, call us at 888-888-0919, or please click the green button below.