You probably did not anticipate that your parenting plan contained within your final decree of divorce was going to be put to the test by a virus from the other side of the world. The fact is that if you and your ex-spouse had an agreement with problems integrated into your divorce decree then those problems were going to rear their ugly heads eventually. As the saying goes: it’s when the tide goes out that we can all see who was skinny dipping. Meaning: when times are good, mistakes can be covered up. However, when times get tough…
The coronavirus has caused us have to withstand a myriad of changes to our daily lives. Work schedules have gone out the window. Our normal routines of getting up, getting dressed, getting the kids up and going and heading off to work has changed for most of us. Even essential employees had changes to how their office or work environment functioned. Now that social distancing and hand washing has taken the place of orders to stay at home we can all see that a quick return to normalcy probably isn’t in the cards.
For instance, most schools in our area were closed for Spring Break during the week that the coronavirus “hit” the United States. Now, we don’t know for sure that it was during that time of the month where the virus started having an impact on the country but that is when professional sports leagues started shutting down operations, businesses closed on-site operations and governmental leaders stepped into the void to create rules associated with leaving our homes and doing much of anything else besides watching television.
Our schools never reopened. Given the initial closures pushed the start date back to May at the earliest, I can understand the state not wanting to re-open classrooms for a few weeks only to see them close again until summer term began. Now we are left questioning whether or not the 2020-2021 school year will start on time. Is a “second wave” of the virus going to hit in the fall? What will happen with a possible vaccine? These are questions that are going to be answered at some point but for now we are left wondering what the near future will look like.
Co-parenting is tough enough as it is without the virus being involved
Any of you who have been divorced for years can likely attest to the fact that co-parenting, even in the best of times, is a challenge. Having to work together with an ex-spouse on any task is difficult. Hopefully you all have been able to set aside most of your differences in order to do what is best for your child. However, pride and love for your child are two factors that can definitely make co-parenting a chore in trying times like these.
This is where having an established and effective parenting plan can really stand to benefit you and your family. By honoring the parenting plan there does not have to be a great deal of discussion when it comes to visitation and possession issues that impact your kids. In light of the pandemic there may need to be slight changes to the plan which you all should consider as a unit and make decisions on only after determining what is best for the health and safety of your child.
What are some factors that could lead to your needing to re-evaluate your parenting plan? Loss of income for you and/or your ex-spouse, travel problems, health issues and confusion regarding the school calendar for the remainder of this school year are just a few of the issues related to the pandemic that may have caused you all to re-think your plan. That doesn’t mean that your parenting plan is a bad one. It just means that nobody could have reasonably anticipated having to adjust to life under a pandemic.
It would be tempting right now to try and reach out and grasp at every issue that is impacting our lives due to the virus in an attempt to fix everything right now. The reality of our situation is that we cannot do that. Not everything can be fixed at a moment’s notice, unfortunately. Instead, I think it would be beneficial for your family to focus on a few issues that can be changed for the better with some concerted action.
A hypothetical situation that may sound a little like your family
Let’s take a hypothetical family here in southeast Texas and we will examine their parenting situation. In this case, the parents got divorced six years ago. The mother has primary custody of the three kids. You, as the father, has a possession order/parenting plan that allows you to be with your children 45% of the time during the year. This counts summer visitation time, overnight visits during the school year and holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving.
As it pertains to conservatorship rights and the ability to make decisions on behalf of your child, Mom and you must make most decisions mutually or defer to a mediator to play tie breaker. This is the case for educational and non-emergency medical situations. For the most part you and your ex-wife are able to come together and work out solutions as a team rather than to defer to a mediator.
Your current living situation is as follows: your ex-wife has remarried and has three children with her new husband. You remarried but have no children with your new wife. Both of you have college degrees and work white collar, office positions on which you are paid well.
Here is where the pandemic comes into play. Your ex-wife’s oldest child with new husband came home from Kindergarten sick one day last week. Of course, your ex-wife took her to get tested for the coronavirus and she tested positive. Other than taking the child to her pediatrician, there has not been a need to take the child elsewhere. She is resting comfortably at home and has no need to go to a hospital for any care.
On your side of the fence, your wife works as an ICU nurse at a hospital in suburban Harris County. She recently was tested for the virus and is waiting on the results to come back in. The odds of her getting sick are not super-duper high even though she works in the ICU. However, percentage wise her chances of getting sick are better than a person who works from home, for example. Your office is not open and hasn’t been since mid-March. You’re now a person who has never had trouble finding work, but is sitting at home waiting for the office to begin work again. You rarely leave home for any reason other than to go to the grocery store.
What do you want out of this situation?
Ok, now that we have established the characteristics of your situation we have to ask the question: what do you want to see happen with your family right now? For starters, you do not want your kids staying with their mom while of the step-sisters is positive for COVID-19. You are contacting mom everyday to implore her to let you pick up your kids, get them tested and then take them home with you until the stepsister is healthy once again- at the earliest.
The schools in our area are closed right now. In about a week that won’t matter since summer vacation will have been starting up anyways. Since your wife works all day you would be left at home to care for your kids while you are waiting for work to start back up and your kids are left to idleness while the schools ponder whether even to start on time for the 2020-2021 school year.
Your ex-wife, not surprisingly, isn’t a huge fan of your plan to take over the parenting responsibility for your kids on an 100% basis while her little girl heals up from the virus. She contends that it is ridiculous that she should have to go without seeing her other children for a month (if not longer) while the other child recuperates from the virus and then tests negative afterwards. To add to the stress of this situation, you have not been able to pay child support of the past few weeks. Any medical care that the children incur during this time would be an absolute struggle to pay for.
Where to go from here when parents disagree about how to handle sickness and possession in the era of COVID-19?
First of all, we need to re-establish that you and your ex-spouse share parenting responsibilities and custody of your children. The decision making is not something vested completely in you or in your ex-spouse. The decisions that you make for your kids are, ideally, intended to be in the best interests of your children and should be made together with your ex-spouse. That all worked well until the virus came upon southeast Texas.
Can you mediate your case? The answer is yes. Mediators are creative when it comes to helping people solve their family law related issues? Mediation is available from many experienced mediators in our area over the internet/video. You and your ex-spouse would not need to come into contact with one another and risk an infection. Scheduling mediation with a mediator who works in family law would be a great idea. High likelihood that the mediator could alleviate your problems and zero chance anyone has to get together for a court hearing.
The main issues that I would pull out of the above hypothetical scenario are that the issues related to possession of your kids can’t really be set aside and tabled until the county shut down of the courts has come to an end. The immediate health of your kids hangs in the balance of what is happening with their stepsister getting the virus. If your children are not removed from their mother’s home they could get sick. The reality is that they may have gotten the virus already but are asymptomatic or at worst showing symptoms that are not significant. You and your ex-spouse need to determine who gets the call the shots in this regard.
There is no time like the present to make a decision in relation to this parenting plan. Do not wait to see what will happen with the health of the stepsister. Odds are that she will improve and get well sooner rather than later. However, do not wait to see if your children can be removed from that environment. Coming up with a plan that can address this problem and any potential problems related to visitation, possession and sickness down the road would seem to be a good plan.
Will you need to quarantine your kids in this situation? What if another child gets sick later in the pandemic period? Will you mandate quarantines in your mediation later on, as well? Come to an agreement on this subject now rather than arguing about it down the line. Work out what will happen if your wife gets the virus or at the very least gets sick with a general cold down the line. Do not keep secrets when it comes to this virus. A mediator can offer an impartial voice for you to consider in a time when you may have trouble making decisions on your own.
Questions about family law and its place in the COVID-19 pandemic? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions regarding the information presented in today’s blog post please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer a free of charge consultations six days a week via video conference or phone calls. We appreciate your willingness to spend some time with us today and hope that you will join us this week for more unique content related to your family and this pandemic.