Family Law and COVID-19: Legal Custody and Parenting Time
Legal custody is the hallmark of co-parenting. Both parents should confer and attempt to agree on issues pertaining their child’s health, safety, education, and welfare, all in the name of their child’s best interests. The decisions you and the other parent make about your child during this coronavirus pandemic may or may not place them at a higher risk of contracting the virus, which certainly makes these decisions more critical and imparts upon the duty to discuss these decisions with your child’s other parent. Surely, if a child or parent contracts the disease, legal custody would mandate that joint legal custodians discuss and agree upon how to handle any parenting time and health related issues, but it also remains prudent to discuss and attempt to agree upon a plan of action ahead of time.
New Jersey, along with the majority of the United States, has declared a state of emergency. Most, though not all, activities requiring people to congregate have been temporarily prohibited. However, some people are clearly still gathering together, and there are differences of opinion as to how, and with whom, socialization should be occurring.
You may be asking yourself many questions.
Are all social gatherings unsafe? Is your child allowed to see his or her friends? Are you restricted from taking your young child outside of your home entirely? What about birthday parties or religious functions? Does the particular living situation of your child’s other parent cause you some concern? Under what conditions should parenting time exchanges take place? Does one or both parents’ remote work obligation interfere with or preclude assisting the child with their own remote learning and schoolwork?
As the risk of the coronavirus is better defined, these are parental decisions and judgment calls you will need to assess on behalf of your child. Assuming you share joint legal custody of your child with the other parent, legal custody seems to demand that these issues are broached with the other parent and that you attempt to find a compromise to align with both of your perspectives. When doing so, you must keep in mind that the “best interests of the child” should guide the analysis.
Flexibility, compromise, a united motive to act in the best interest of your child, and a united message to your child will strengthen your co-parenting relationship and potentially minimize conflict with and about your child. However, in cases where parents cannot reconcile their differences and find compromise, those parents may need to seek court intervention or some form of virtual alternate dispute resolution, and should often seek legal counsel immediately.