As California and more and more states shelter in place, what to do with the kids in a co-parenting relationship is top of mind right now.
If you haven’t listened already, my podcast episode on How to Navigate Divorce & Co-Parenting During the COVID-19 Pandemic will likely be very useful to you. Give it a listen here: Quickly, before I dive in, just a reminder: if you need legal help right now, be sure to book your free 15-minute divorce strategy consultation with a member of our legal team.
If you need more in-depth help, you can book 30 minutes with a member of our legal team for a flat rate of $99 until April 1 by entering code STAYSTRONG at checkout.
Can I still see my kids during “stay at home” in California?
NOTE: This info is as of 3/26/20
Short answer: yes. More complicated answer: yes, as long as commuting time between two homes is fairly short.
Custody exchanges are the biggest topic coming up right now for Hello Divorce and Levine Family Law Group. We are getting call after call from the custodial parent trying to find a way to not have to make custody exchanges. In general, what we are telling people is that if the exchange is in close proximity, you should continue to make the exchanges unless you have a real justifiable reason. That is the court order, so that is what is expected. For more information, check your local county’s government website. Also note: there are sometimes legitimate reasons why custody exchanges should be temporarily suspended – maybe you have an autoimmune disease? maybe your ex lives with his aging parents? maybe one parent has been exposed to Covid 19. Use your common sense and get legal advice if and when you need it.
The general consensus is that the ‘shelter in place’ directive does have exceptions that allow custodial exchanges because of a court order, or to care for a family member. However, the question becomes when we have these custody exchanges that are across state lines or more than a few hours away. In that case, I’d strongly recommend coming up with a plan that can make both parents happy. Maybe the child(ren) stay put for now, and once travel is allowed again, perhaps they get bonus time with the non-custodial parent? Get a FaceTime schedule in place. Think of ways to keep the kids in close contact with the non-custodial parent. Remember (hard as it may be) that this is about the kids and what’s best for them in these unprecedented times.
My ex is a medical professional. Do I have to let them see the kids right now? I’m worried about their health.
I have had a lot of co-parents whose ex is a doctor or nurse call in to tell me that they’re worried that their healthcare professional ex might be exposed to coronavirus. People are worried that this high risk of exposure could put their kids at risk of contracting the virus.
As my colleague, lawyer Billie Tarascio put it during our podcast interview on co-parenting through coronavirus, “To me, that is just the most heartbreaking about dealing with this disaster; that we’re afraid of one another. But the threat is real. And it’s not anybody’s fault. But, we can come together and support another. We usually do in times of crisis. I think the only thing that parents can do at a point like this is communicate with one another with respect and a constant focus on what is best for my health and my kids’ health, what is the real risk, what am I willing to expose?” To that end, this is a decision you and your ex will need to make together. But with their health knowledge and eyewitness account of what this horrible virus is doing to so many, your medical professional ex may have already beat you to the conclusion that it’s best for the kids to stay put. So, I strongly advise you beat them to the next step of suggesting solid plans to put in place for them to stay in touch with the kids while everyone rides this out.
I’m paying child support, but right now, I can’t afford to continue at the level we agreed to. What are my options to modify child support?
There are a lot of people whose income is severely impacted right now. If you need to modify your current order because your income is reduced, talk to your ex. See if you can come to an agreement. Remind them that without an agreement, you will both likely need to file a request for order and go to court after all of this blows over. Going to court without a lawyer is risky, and a lawyer is just going to be another expense that many people can’t afford right now.
In California, if your ex doesn’t agree to modify support, you need to file a motion, which is generally only retroactive to the date that you file. Meaning that you can only modify support back to the date that you file your motion, not the date that your income changes. With courts not accepting filings, that’s causing a lot of people concern. If can come to agreement with your ex on child support modifications, even if those modifications are temporary, you can do a stipulation. Hello Divorce members can access our template for that, here. And of course, if you need our help, you can book time at a flat rate to get help from a member of our legal team.
Remember: this is not the time for conflict. I think my colleague, lawyer Stan Sarsikov puts it best:
“Unfortunately, in stressful times, some parents use catastrophe as fuel to their own agenda. An order is still an order and should be followed—violating orders only creates more confusion for children (and there is enough confusion in the air). COVID-19 is not a greenlight to violate court orders. Essential travel includes travel to take care of family members and adherence to court orders.” Stan recommends:
inform your attorney so counsel can meet and confer,
notify the other party that orders must be maintained,
call law enforcement to enforce orders,
if this continues, talk to your attorney about modifying custody—or potentially filing an emergency request.
Personally, in my 15 years of practice, the best way I think co-parents can talk and navigate through this with respect and avoiding two very important things: demands and criticisms. Because the moment one person begins demanding something of the other; the moment one person starts criticizing the other person’s activities – they shut down. And we need to keep communication open – right now, more than ever.
To avoid misunderstandings, I’m really encouraging the use of “I” statements, and to even ask the other person, “Hey, it sounds like I just made you really upset. What did you hear me say? Let’s try to work this out.” This crisis is an opportunity to try to keep things as peaceful between the two of you as possible – and maybe even do some problem solving together.
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