So many aspects of our lives have been pushed into uncharted territory during the pandemic, from how we interact with loved ones, to how we shop, work, and perform other commonplace actions. The COVID-19 crisis has seemed to upend the all usual workings. Courtrooms, including those in New Jersey, however, were among the first to adopt teleconferencing technologies to continue doing their work. They have been meting out judgments on custody since shortly after the start of the crisis. That means that some clients are adjusting to sharing custody in the midst of a climate of staying home, social distancing, and real fear of the spread of the virus. But whether you're newly separated or veteran divorcees with teens at home, navigating child custody during the COVID pandemic is a road fraught with conflict.
Parents must navigate a number of considerations during this time to make the best decisions for themselves and their children. And in cases of divorce, you and your ex may not be speaking the same language.
Different Houses, Different Rules
Of prime concern for divorced or separated parents in this historical moment is their child's exposure to the virus while under the care of the other parent. Even the best of relationships with an ex can turn sour, shifting a workable dynamic into one that's ready to march back to court. Coming to an understanding about when and how to socially distance can lead to real conflict. One parent may be comfortable sending the child to a friend's house for a playdate while the other may be practicing a strict stay-at-home policy. Or perhaps, through no fault of their own, one parent lives in a place with elevated exposure—an apartment building with an outbreak, or with family members who are exposed. Or one parent may simply wish to limit the extra exposure a child has because they are moving between two homes, rather than isolating in a single household.
Where to Start
There's no need for a legal professional to start the conversation. Couples are free to change dates in shared custody agreements and handle the shifting schedule without legal involvement. Unless you have a brand new custody agreement, you likely haven't included language about what to do in a crisis. But in an amicable relationship, it's possible to handle the changes without putting it in your agreement.
Turning to Experts
You may, however, wish to draft modifications to your existing custody agreement in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. If an ex-spouse has potentially been exposed, either through work or through recreation, it may be time to speak with a legal professional about what you can do to protect the health of your child. New Jersey courts are continuing to work remotely to hear cases in family court. They are hearing cases requesting changes in custody in the face of the health crisis and may make adjustments to existing agreements. You can contact attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm at 888-535-3686 to discuss the best course of action.