Life during a pandemic is anxiety-inducing for everyone. For parents trying to balance work, school closures, and social distancing, life is stressful. But parents navigating custody agreements and visitations during quarantine may face what seems like an impossible task. It's the rare custody agreement that explicitly addresses pandemics.
Gov. Murphy's Stay at Home Order
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Governor Phil Murphy issued a stay at home order on March 21, 2020, limiting New Jersey residents to only necessary travel outside the home. The order allowed travel for food and supplies, to maintain health, or for essential workers. Together with the New Jersey Supreme Court order limiting court access, many parents wondered if their custody agreements were still enforceable.
While the governor has eased New Jersey travel restrictions, exactly when and how schools will reopen is still in the air. But parents are naturally concerned about how to juggle schools that may be open only part-time with work and custody schedules, particularly if one parent has custody for most of the workweek.
Navigating Custody Agreements and a Pandemic
While this is new territory for everyone, there are a few general guidelines that co-parents should follow during this uncertain time:
- Follow the court order: New Jersey courts will follow your court order unless there are some compelling circumstances. The risk of additional contacts alone won't be enough to change a custody agreement, so parents should try to work together.
- Communicate and make a plan: Parents should communicate as much as possible. If co-parents can come up with agreed-upon guidelines for custody exchanges or activities that both consider safe, custody exchanges may go more smoothly.
- Be flexible: If infection numbers spike and Gov. Murphy issues a new stay-at-home order, parents need to be flexible. They should discuss what to do if New Jersey's opening phase changes again. They should also discuss what to do if one of them becomes sick.
Custody Agreements When Schools Reopen
When New Jersey kids go back to school, parents may need even more flexibility. With the possibility of virtual or hybrid school models, parents of young children may be left scrambling. Parents should discuss:
- Virtual school: If a child ends up back in virtual school or with only a few days a week in school, how will parents manage additional childcare?
- Working from home: Can one parent work virtually and manage kids' schooling during the day?
- Childcare: If virtual or hybrid classes result in a need for more childcare, can the parents split the cost?
If parents can't agree on a co-parenting and custody plan that reflects the new realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, New Jersey resumed in-person court services on June 22, 2020. Parents can now more easily seek a court order.
If you are facing difficulties exercising your parental rights, give the Lento Law Firm a call at 888-535-3686 or contact us online. New Jersey attorney Joseph D. Lento has many years of experience negotiating and navigating complicated family law issues for his clients. He can help guide you in this stressful time.