7 Practical Suggestions and Pointers For Those Going Through a Divorce During COVID-19

ATTEMPT TO COMMUNICATE:
Although it is difficult for divorcing couples to have a discussion about almost anything, COVID-19 is forcing parents to do exactly that in order to protect their and their children’s health and to deal with school closures and working from home. If you are unable to talk to each other without getting into an argument, email is the best tool and creates a written record that can later be reviewed if necessary. Make sure to leave anger and sarcasm out of your emails and texts, and assume every email and text will eventually be read by the judge (because they likely will if you cannot restrain yourself in your communications).

SUGGEST ALTERNATE SCHEDULES:
If you think it works for your children, propose a “reasonable” solution to dealing with custody time periods during this isolation period to minimize transfers between homes to avoid potential spread. Some parents are temporarily changing to a 2 weeks on/2 weeks off schedule with each parent, with video calls daily to keep in contact. This schedule coincides with the CDC recommendations for self-quarantine if someone is exposed to the virus. However, do not attempt to unilaterally change your custody and visitation schedule, and always attempt to reach an agreement with the other parent if possible that works for everyone. Family law attorneys can connect you with a parenting coach who is working remotely to assist you and your co-parent if you need some help in communicating.

TEACH GOOD HYGIENE:
Use this time to teach children how to be safe and lead by example. Children take their cues from their parents and need to feel safe. Most parents will tell their children to wash their hands before eating, after using the bathroom. Few parents will show their children the proper way to wash their hands for 20 seconds. Now is the time to show them and lead by example.|

USE THIS TIME TO RECONNECT:
Use this extra time to connect with friends and family. Calling friends and family that you may not have spoken to lately to see how they are doing and/or offering to pick up groceries for neighbors when you go shopping is teaching your children good values, and also makes our community stronger.

TREAT YOUR EX WELL:
Be the bigger person and treat your ex or “soon to be ex” as you would like them to treat you, even if they do not reciprocate. As difficult as it is to be kind to your “soon to be ex,” you need the flexibility to do it, and these acts will often help make negotiations more amicable (or at the very least will reflect well on you in later court hearings).

FOLLOW COURT ORDERS:
Temporary and Permanent Court Orders for parenting time MUST STILL BE FOLLOWED– NO EXCEPTIONS UNLESS BOTH PARTIES ARE IN AGREEMENT. The parent who does not comply with the court ordered parenting time runs the risk of being held in contempt. Contempt is serious and can have a major impact on your life. Family court judges are allowed huge discretion and are rarely reversed on factual matters. The best advice to someone facing this situation is to speak with an experienced family lawyer before taking any action as it may negatively impact their case.

CONSIDER YOUR ACTIONS CAREFULLY:
Although experienced divorce lawyers spend countless hours drafting language in Settlement Agreements and Court Orders to take into consideration many potential situations arising from raising children in two different households, keep in mind that this pandemic is NOT one of the contingencies that were planned for. The court system is currently being bombarded with requests for “emergency” cases to be heard, but divorce cases will rarely meet the criteria for an “emergency” unless the case involves immediate domestic violence issues. So do not expect the Judge to address your disagreements until the courts are back to normal, but do realize that your actions during this time will be scrutinized by the Court eventually (and act accordingly to show yourself in the best light).