Co-parenting is complicated even when there’s not a worldwide pandemic. But today, with schools and businesses closed and social distancing rules in effect, shared custody can be more difficult than ever. With families all over South Carolina facing unemployment, financial uncertainty, and upended schedules, visitation may be in disarray and co-parents may have challenges they never predicted.
Although the majority of courts are closed during the coronavirus pandemic, as well as shelter-in-place orders in effect, Governor McMaster’s Executive Order does allow for child custody orders to proceed as an essential activity: “Travelling as required by law, to include attending any court proceedings and transporting children as required by court order or custody agreement.”
Effectively co-parenting in a crisis
Although the South Carolina courts haven’t explicitly released any guidelines regarding how to handle child custody issues during this time, other than emergency hearings, the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and Association of Family and Conciliation Courts have released guidelines for co-parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
These seven tips are as follows:
- Be Healthy. Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive handwashing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.
- Be Mindful. Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave CNN on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.
- Be Compliant with court orders and custody agreements. As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions, there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school was still in session.
- Be Creative. At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.
- Be Transparent. Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly, both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.
- Be Generous. Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.
- Be Understanding. There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.
If you have questions or concerns regarding your custody agreement, don’t hesitate to contact me at Holland Law.
Whether you need me to review a temporary custody plan or help file for an emergency order, I can help. To schedule a consultation in either our Fort Mill office on Gold Hill Road, or in our Rock Hill office on Oakland Avenue, please call 803-288-3885 or contact us online. Our team serves clients in the York, Lancaster, and Chester County communities.
Tom Holland previously served as the General Counsel for the Lancaster County Sheriff’s Office, the City Solicitor for the City of Lancaster, and as a Special Assistant United States Attorney for the Sixth Circuit Solicitor’s Office. He is a single father, and through his own divorce gained valuable insight he now uses to represent Fort Mill and Rock Hill, SC families with the best representation. Learn more about Tom Holland.