10 Custody Coping Tips During Corona

Living with a custody order is challenging in normal circumstances, but add in a worldwide pandemic, and things get complicated. Follow these tips to keep things safe and on an even keel for everyone in the family.

  1. Safety first. The most important thing in this situation is that everyone stays healthy and safe. This is the only thing that will matter to you ten years from now when you look back on it – that your children remained healthy. If either parent is sick, even if they are not diagnosed with COVID-19, they should stay away from the children. It doesn't matter how you're supposed to be sharing time, and it doesn't matter what your order says. If you're sick, your children should stay with the other parent until you recover or until you've completed any recommended quarantine.

    If your ex is sick, you have to put your foot down and convince them to stay away. If your child is immune-compromised or otherwise at elevated risk, staying put in one home where no one leaves is the best plan. And if your child gets ill, staying in one place will be easier for them as they recover. 

  2. Convert your order to blocks of time. Everyone in the state has been told to stay home. The less transferring you do of your children, the safer everyone is going to be. We're recommending that our clients condense their custody order down into larger blocks of consecutive nights. So, if one parent would have a total of five days over a 14-day period, instead of transferring the children back and forth every weekend, schedule five days in a row with that parent. Everyone will have to go out fewer times, and the family will be safer. 

  3. Negotiate other changes. These are unusual times, and that calls for unusual measures. If one parent has a house upstate where there is a lower infection rate, it may make sense to agree that the children should move up there for a month. Or perhaps one parent has a house in Idaho and can fly them there via private jet. This can work if you can agree to make up time for the other parent – maybe they then will get a month after that. Focus on creating a plan for the kids now that minimizes their risk. 

  4. Keep child support in mind. While safety is key, don't forget that changes in the schedule can impact child support. If the balance of time shifts so that the children spend more time with the other parent, you could end up owing child support. Talk with your attorney to understand what kind of balance you need to maintain and how you can best do that while protecting your children's safety.

  5. Stay apart. It might be tempting to quarantine together as one big family, but in general, unless your relationship is extremely amicable, this will be problematic. Quarantine is challenging for functional families and nearly impossible for families with conflict. Staying in the same house is certain to inflame your situation. 

  6. Get on the same page with social distancing. The recommendations are to minimize all social contact, and that playdates and group gatherings are discouraged. It's important that you and the other parent listen to those guidelines. If one parent is staying home with the children, but the other is letting neighborhood kids come over to play in the backyard, you're not following the same script. 

    Both parents must follow the guidelines and do so to the same level so that everyone can reduce their risk. Likewise, if one parent has their own friends or relatives over during this crisis, that's not a safe plan. Everyone in the family should follow the same rules about quarantine.

  7. Get your lawyers involved. Courts are closed for all but emergency proceedings right now, so if you and your ex disagree about social distancing or the level of quarantine to follow, get your lawyers involved. They are there to help and most likely will be able to work out a plan that everyone can agree too, and if worst comes to worst, a lawyer can help a client see that they are making bad choices.  

  8. Maintain schoolwork. If the other parent has proven to be lax about homework in the past, it's a safe assumption that they aren't up to the challenge of homeschooling through this crisis. If you're concerned about this, you have a couple of options to consider. You can try to handle the bulk of schoolwork yourself on the days the children are with you. You can send them to the other house with instructions about what they need to do while they're there. 

    You can try to impress upon the other parent the importance of keeping up with school. If there is another adult at the other parent's home (girlfriend, boyfriend, new spouse, or nanny), try to talk to them and get them on your team with schooling. Keep in mind that you can't control the other parent, and if they aren't going to cooperate, you can't make them. If that's the case, remember this is only temporary, and your kids will return to school and be able to make up for the lost time. You can, however, keep notes about what's happened and use it for a custody modification in the future. 

  9. Use technology. No matter how your division of time works out, video calls are a way for kids to stay in touch with both parents. Use them liberally and often. Any previous rules imposed in your order about how often a parent can have phone or online contact with a child should go out the window now, particularly if you are modifying your custody plan. Children will feel safer and more normalized if they have regular face to face contact with both parents throughout this. 

  10. Be the martyr. If all else fails, be the bigger person in the situation. Give up time with your kids if it means maintaining their safety. Do what you have to do to ensure that they stay healthy. Keep track of everything you do and report it all to your lawyer in the hope that you can get makeup time later. At the very least, it will make you look good to the judge and may play in your favor. 


Dror Bikel

Dror Bikel co-founded Bikel Rosenthal & Schanfield, New York’s best known firm for high-conflict matrimonial disputes. A New York Superlawyer℠ and twice recognized (2020 and 2021) New York Divorce Trial Lawyer of the Year, Dror’s reputation as a fearsome advocate in difficult custody and divorce disputes has led him to deliver solid outcomes in some of New York’s most complex family law trials. Attorney Bikel is a frequent commentator on high profile divorces for national and international media outlets. His book The 1% Divorce - When Titans Clash was a 5-category Amazon bestseller.

To connect with Dror: 212.682.6222 | [hidden email] | Online

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