COVID-19 has had a major impact on divorced families in California and across the country. For even the most amicable co-parents, quarantine, social distancing, and health concerns have created various hurdles to maintaining a cooperative co-parenting relationship that they haven’t had to face before.
Despite the pandemic, California parenting time guidelines have remained the same — and courts do not view the virus as an excuse for parents to make changes to their parenting time schedules unilaterally. Whether you're apprehensive about your children spending time in the other parent's household or you disagree with the other parent about health and safety measures, COVID-19 has raised new concerns for families, affecting parenting time in several significant ways.
It's important to understand that California custody and parenting time orders have not changed due to COVID-19, social distancing recommendations, and quarantine restrictions. This means that the shared parenting schedule both parents agreed to will continue, even if schools aren't open. For instance, even while your children are remotely learning from home, the school year schedule in your agreement should still be followed.
Since existing parenting time orders are still in place — absent a written agreement between parents — it's more important than ever for co-parents to work together to protect their children. While parents are understandably nervous about their children being exposed to the virus, they still cannot change the parenting schedule on their own accord or deny the other parent their parenting time.
If you're able to communicate effectively with your co-parent, it's best to talk with them about the concerns you have about your children's safety. Depending on your family's specific circumstances, you may need to be flexible about parenting time arrangements to reduce any health risks to your children. However, if you and your co-parent agree about a parenting schedule change, make sure that it's documented by e-mail or text to show that both parents consented to the adjustment in case a dispute should later arise.
The last few months have been incredibly stressful for many families. From homeschooling to health issues, parents have been dealing with many concerns when it comes to their children. Pandemic or not, the best interests of their children should be every parent's first priority. You and your co-parent should discuss different parenting time options to minimize the potential health risks to your children — as well as the emotional effects.
Parents should also try to be more flexible with visitation arrangements during the pandemic. If the health crisis prevents one parent from having meaningful parenting time right now, it might mean compromising and modifying the schedule to make up missed time during a future holiday or summer vacation.
Parents should work together to find creative parenting time solutions if a member of either household is in quarantine or has a high-risk job that frequently exposes them to the virus. If in-person parenting time is not possible, you might consider scheduling FaceTime and Skype calls, or using a virtual platform to play online games. Depending on the child's age, you might use video calls to help them with their homework, watch a movie together, or read a book. While virtual parenting time can't replace spending time with your child in person, it can still be a great way to bond and build your relationship.
Even during the current health emergency, you shouldn't make changes to the parenting time schedule without first having an open discussion with the other parent. Not only might you be violating a court order, but making decisions without the consent of the other parent can also be detrimental to your co-parenting relationship.
If the other parent refuses to follow the co-parenting schedule while the pandemic is ongoing, mediation can be an effective way to resolve your disputes. Absent exigent circumstances concerning the child's safety or welfare that would necessitate an emergency order, mediation can help you reach a compromise concerning your co-parenting schedule. It can also be conducted remotely while courts are operating at limited capacity.
In addition to affecting your parenting time schedule, COVID-19 may have impacted various other aspects of your custody agreement. For example, since many schools are closed — and public locations might present health risks — the question of where to exchange the children might arise. In keeping with the CDC's social distancing and safety guidelines, both parents may need to consider an alternative location for the custody exchange.
There may also be challenges involving exchanges that involve a considerable amount of travel, particularly by plane. In these situations, parents should consider whether transportation by car is a possibility during the pandemic. If the child's well being would be placed at risk, it’s best to continue parenting time by video conferencing until it's safe to travel again.
Many families have had to make countless sacrifices and substantial changes to their shared parenting schedules over the last several months. If you are facing a dispute concerning parenting time during these unprecedented times, an experienced California family law attorney can best advise you of your legal rights and remedies. The Law Offices of Rick D. Banks has more than 20 years of experience helping clients throughout Fresno and the surrounding area reach positive outcomes in their family law matters. To schedule a no obligation consultation, call (559)222-4891.