Co-Parenting in a Pandemic

We live in a bizarre climate that seems to be changing constantly. Many parents face confusion and uncertainty about the future, and how to best navigate one’s children through this time is not so easy. Some concerns are whether or not to send one’s child(ren) back to school, or let them go on a trip with their friends to the city, while other parents have to work from home and watch their children at the same time. COVID-19 has upset the status-quo and daily routine of many lives, and it has affected the way family court judges have to rule as well.

Some Cases of COVID in the Courtroom

The safety and well-being of the child is the priority of every family law judge – and some judges are very strict when the case concerns a careless parent or one that has to be in contact with many people. What if the child has a pre-existing condition or some other illness that could put them at risk to the virus? A Floridian mother for example refused to wear a mask and the father was concerned that she was putting their asthmatic son at risk of contracting COVID-19. There are many similar cases; an emergency room doctor was not allowed to see his young daughter, a mother didn’t want her son to be with the father because the father was newly engaged to a nurse, and a dermatologist struggled for custody of his 6-year old son due to his profession. Though an appeals court reversed a lower court’s decision to take complete custody away from an emergency room doctor, it seems that judges will continue to deal with these issues. And the story may not end just at front-line workers. What if a parent is a cashier at a grocery store, or works as a waiter/waitress, or operates a delivery-oriented business.

What a World

Most parents don’t want to see their child separated from their ex-partner, and while these may be drastic cases, depending on where you live, unexpected legal orders may affect the way you and your children can live together. Some courts have issued administrative orders addressing coronavirus. For example, a district court in Tennessee said that the “primary residential parent” should take custody of the child within four hours of a shelter-in-place order and retain sole custody until the order is lifted. The Massachusetts Probate and Family Court’s chief justice issued an open letter saying it was important that children spend time with both parents who had approved custody agreements. The judge urged that if a parent must self-quarantine or otherwise be restricted from contact, both parents should cooperate to allow time with children by video conference or telephone. So it seems there’s a brighter side to many stories and success in cooperation between the parents and the judges is possible.

A New York Judge’s Perspective

New York family court judge Jeffrey Sunshine offered his perspective on what family law court is like for him. He thinks all parents should consider, regardless of their resident state, how their behavior will be viewed once this crisis is over. Judges always ask how a parent might behave outside of the courtroom, and Judge Sunshine cautions parents who are not obeying court orders that the actions they take today and during this crisis could significantly influence the final decision of a judge – as child support and child custody cases are always subject to change.

The judge explained that how parents conduct themselves during a time of a pandemic crisis will shape their relationship with each other as divorced parents, and most importantly the relationship that their children have with them. It is not only the judge who will remember how the parents acted, but also their children. Judge Sunshine has presided over family law cases for over twenty years, and listens carefully to what the children have to say. He hopes over the next few years that children will be telling him how positively their parents behaved to make sure they were safe, allowed access by technology if illness or the risks of travel prevented access, and that both of their parents put their differences aside for the sake of the child.

How SupportPay Can Help

Ex-spouses have enough on their plate simply being a single parent. It doesn’t help supplementing that with a coparent unwilling to pay child support, a quarrelsome and combative ex-spouse, or a family court judge limiting the time you spend with your child. SupportPay helps pacify communication with your coparent and establish an equilibrium so that both parties can get what they want. Coparenting is about working together. If one parent is relaxed with the COVID-situation and the other leads a life that warrants caution, a judge doesn’t have to be the first resort. Whatever your issues, SupportPay can help manage them, and it will help you in many ways to be: healthy; mindful of the law, your child and your coparent; compliant with your child support orders; creative in navigating the ways of today’s world; transparent; and understanding of your coparent.


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