Currently, we anticipate another two months of shelter in place. That means at least two more months without daycare and help from sitters, two more months of the kids having marginal (if any) structured learning, and no word regarding what lies ahead for summer camp. What does this mean for co-parenting plans and dealing with our former spouses and partners? Here are three questions that continue to arise in our clients’ minds as we weather the pandemic:
Must I risk exposure to COVID-19 by allowing my child to visit the other parent’s home?
Unless there is a material change in circumstances or your child would be put in harm’s way by spending time with the other parent, he or she should go. To the extent possible, COVID-19 should not serve as an excuse to inhibit a child from seeing the other parent. The Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Probate and Family Court wrote a public letter reminding parents, stating “it is important that children spend time with both of their parents and that each parent have the opportunity to engage in family activities, where [already] provided for by court order.”
It is difficult and stressful for both households and the child when considering exposure to the virus. However, there are ways to approach alternative scenarios, should the normal co-parenting schedule be adjusted:
- To ensure your child’s safety and the safety of both households, the parent who is not currently housing the child could agree to forego parenting time for 14 days in order to quarantine, and then resume the schedule as normal.
- Agree to alternative forms of co-parenting time when the child is staying at one parent’s home to heighten connection. This may include communicating via videoconferencing apps such as Zoom and FaceTime, or activities such as daily masked walks through the neighborhood or playing online games together.
- Agree to schedule make-up parenting time after you are reassured that your co-parent is not a COVID-19 carrier or a threat to your child’s health.
- Agree to extended vacation time over the summer.
Do I have recourse if my former spouse or former partner is being unreasonable? Yes, always! While the courts are “closed” in the traditional sense, you are not without options. Standing Orders have been entered for handling litigation needs, if they amount to an emergency that warrants a telephonic hearing. While the courts have raised the threshold for what constitutes an emergency matter, it can still be done. Your attorney can get your case into court by using different strategies for filing and presenting emergency motions during this time period. Alternatively, now may be the time to consider mediation and private adjudication to resolve differences without going to court.
What if the Court does not think my issue amounts to an emergency?
That is not a reason to forgo or delay filing a motion with the court. While only emergencies matters are being heard, any new actions or motions filed will be processed due course. There is sure to be a back log when the courts re-open their doors, so do not wait. File now. Attorneys recognize that some former spouses and former partners are not reasonable, and you may need help or are not prepared to take this on alone. Partner with an attorney who will have your best interest in mind and handle these procedures on your behalf.
If you have any questions or need help, Burns & Levinson’s attorneys are here to help.
Lisa Cukier is a firm partner and Executive Committee member. She concentrates her practice on all aspects of estate and trust litigation, fiduciary litigation, probate law, child custody, parentage issues and divorce, planning and litigation for blended families, adoption, guardianship and conservatorship, and elder financial exploitation. Lisa serves as private adjudicator, Special Master, Guardian ad Litem, and mediator. She can be reached at email@example.com or 617.345.3471.
Courtney Greenberg is an associate who focuses her practice on divorce and family law, and probate and trust litigation. Courtney works closely with her clients to be at their disposal, to guide them through these processes from beginning to end in all relevant areas, including but not limited to divorce, modifications, contempts, custody and/or child support battles, alimony, removal cases, paternity actions, commitment hearings, securing emergency guardianship and conservatorships. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 617.345.3512.