When you’re a divorced parent, being separated from your child when your former spouse takes custody is difficult enough. But doing it during a pandemic can be downright unbearable.
The simple fact is that the coronavirus epidemic has suddenly thrown virtually everything in our modern world into chaos and uncertainty.
The old standards just don’t apply right now. Laws are being rewritten, relaxed, or abolished and new ones are being instituted in an effort to contend with this global emergency.
At the same time, courts are shuttering their doors and attorneys, like the rest of us, are retreating to the safety of their homes for the duration.
But none of that really matters right now. All that matters to you right now is keeping your child safe in a world that has become suddenly, terrifyingly dangerous.
Custody and COVID-19
This article discusses what you need to know about how the COVID-19 outbreak may impact your custody rights.
Protecting Your Child
One of the most important, and most frightening, questions you may face as the pandemic grows is when, or if, you should violate the custody agreement in the attempt to protect your child from exposure to the virus.
The reality is that violating any court order is dangerous business, and the repercussions can be severe. If a judge finds that you have violated the terms of the custody agreement without cause, then you risk losing your custody rights entirely.
At the same time, of course, there is nothing more important than your child’s health. If your former spouse is infected with the virus, then the decision to not send your child to their home is pretty much a no-brainer.
Where it gets murky, though, is when your ex is not infected, but he or she has been exposed or lives in an area where there is rampant community spread. Another challenging issue is whether your former spouse can be trusted to practice effective social isolation.
Before relinquishing custody of your child, especially in high-risk areas, it’s imperative that you discuss strategies for isolation and quarantine, and to have emergency protocols in place should anyone in the household begin showing symptoms or be exposed. You should relinquish custody only when you feel confident that your ex is responsible enough to adhere to these safer practices.
The Best Interest Standard
Custody determinations always come down to the best interest standard. If you can prove to a judge that it is in your child’s best interest to remain with you either temporarily or for the duration of the pandemic, then that’s what you need to do.
However, you are probably not going to be in the best position to make that call. Your anxiety and fear, after all, don’t exactly lend to objectivity or rational judgment. That’s why it’s a good idea to call in an expert. Your divorce attorney will likely be more than willing to teleconference with you to discuss your concerns and establish a strategy to protect your child and preserve your custody rights.
Making Your Case
In addition to invoking the best interest standard, one of the most important things you can do if you want to fight for your right to keep your child with you through this crisis is to demonstrate that you are well-prepared for pandemic parenting. That will more likely than not involve proving that you yourself are not infected and that you and your child are already practicing social distancing.
You will also need to demonstrate that you are equipped to provide for your child’s emotional, psychological, and social needs during this scary and uncertain time. Having a homeschool classroom already set up and running, for instance, is a great way to show that you are ready to help your child make the best out of a bad situation.
Don’t Blow It
No doubt about it, we’re living in precarious times, and you’re trying to guide your child through it with as little physical and psychological harm as possible. The stress and fear are enormous, and that will take a toll not only on your child but also on you.
That means it’s more important than ever to keep your cool. Be careful not to let your frustrations get the better of you. If you let your anxieties spiral out of control, you might find yourself acting out against your ex, badmouthing them in front of your child or behaving in ways that could endanger your custody rights.
Your child needs you to be their rock, their comfort, and their touchstone. They need you to be their sense of security in an increasingly insecure world. So do what you have to do to take care of yourself so that you can take care of your kid. Listen to music. Meditate. Exercise or take a solitary walk around the block.
Parenting during a pandemic may be the most difficult challenge you will ever endure, especially if you are sharing custody and must face the prospect of entrusting your child’s health to the other parent. However, you don’t have to go it alone. Seek the counsel of your attorney to help you determine your child’s best interests and to help you fight for them if need be.
Above all, work to create a home environment that nourishes not only your child’s physical and emotional health but also your own. The pandemic will pass and, hopefully, what your child will remember most is that you were precisely the parent they needed in one of the scariest periods of their life.