One thing that I've noticed since the beginning of the pandemic is that we'd like to talk about this pandemic in terms of it being a completely novel experience. What I mean by that is that we like to think that the issues we are encountering right now are completely unique to this time and are things that we have never encountered before. While I would agree with that facing a virus like the coronavirus is unique, and our government's response to quarantine us has also been unique, many of the issues that we face associated with either of these conditions or anything but unique or once in a lifetime.
As a family law office, our attorneys face challenging issues on behalf of our clients with great regularity. We are used to and have become acclimated over the years 2 advising clients who find themselves in tricky situations. I can't say much of anything with 100% certainty, but I can tell you all that over the next year or five years we will continue to face difficult times in our lives. This is true whether or not the coronavirus fades into oblivion and never darkens our doorsteps again. We are always going to have to make difficult choices and handle difficult circumstances in our lives.
This is what I'm talking about when I mean that many people focus on the virus as if it were something completely out of the ordinary. Yes, managing the perceived health consequences and difficulties associated with the virus are unique. However, dealing with stress, anxiety and is she's related to co-parenting for a separated family are not unique to the world of family law. Quite the opposite, actually. In the world of family law, we deal with issues associated with problems in coparenting with great frequency. This, too, Is something that will always be a part of your life if you have gone through a child custody or divorce case. That is, they need to be able to balance your own parenting priorities with those of an ex-spouse or coparent.
I'm going to go out on a limb and assume that if you and your co-parent do not live together and are not in a relationship with one another that you disagree on Some aspects of how to parent your child. The fact that you all have gone through the trouble of going through a difficult family law case tells me that there at some point in time have been issues in your lives when it comes to coparenting. Think about even the little issues that have come up in your lives over the course of your co-parenting history.
Now that the pandemic and its challenges are staring us all in the face, we need to be more aware that our actions have consequences both immediate and more remote. Whether we agree with the recommendations to stay home or not, these have been the suggestions and recommendations made to us by our government since March. Although there have not been strict quarantines or stay at home orders in place for months the fact remains that we don't know if they will be reinstituted in the future or if modified stay at home orders will be set up in their place.
I am going to write about the subject today of what to do when your co-parent chooses to ignore these stay at home orders for recommendations made by the government. The purpose of the blog post isn't to advocate for or against any kind of quarantine orders that the government may issue now or in the future. I'm writing this blog post as a way to discuss issues related to family law. As with anything else related to the law, you have options available to you should your co-parent choose to not act in accordance with what is in your child's best interest.
Option number one: speak to your co-parent directly about your concerns
No matter which of these three options you choose to employ in your specific circumstances, it would make sense who are you to directly address your co-parent if you believe he or she is putting your child in harm's way. This is true no matter if we're talking about their ignoring the benefits of a foreign team or doing anything else in relation to your child that could harm him or her. This is what I'm talking about when I say that the benefits of learning these lessons during the pandemic could be beneficial to you and your family even after the pandemic comes to an end.
One thing that I think we can all agree on is that all of us have differing levels of willingness to take on risk. Some of you maybe the type of folks who wash your hands 10 times a day no matter what activity it is that you are engaging in. Others of you may not perceive as much risk in our world and your behavior may evidence that position. Taking on risk is something that we all do each in every day. Simply getting out of bed and making breakfast in the morning comes with some level of risk that we're all willing to tolerate. However, risk tolerance becomes especially important when dealing with a viral pandemic.
Getting back to what we were discussing earlier, you and your co-parent may have differing views when it comes to many issues of parenting. The most obvious place where I could see you and your Co parent differing when it comes to raising your child during this pandemic is having a difference of opinion on How much your child should be going out and about in the world right now. You may be of the opinion that your child should be kept at home as much as possible. School, extracurricular activities, family events, church, going out to eat, etc. should all be off limits for now in order to keep your child safe. On the other hand, your co-parent may not perceive as much risk for your child to be out and about and he or she may be taking your child to all these places during their time with your son or daughter.
In your mind, this may go beyond just a difference of opinion on a parenting topic. The issue of your child's going out into the world during this time may more broadly be an issue that deals with health and safety of your child at a very critical level. The news reports and details about people getting sick and even passing away may have had a profound effect on you and you may be objectively concerned with your child and their safety when he or she is with your co-parent. What can you do if you find yourself in a situation like this?
The most simple and direct advice that I can give you would be to speak to your co-parent about your concerns. If at all possible, you should speak person to person with your co-parent so that he or she can not only hear your voice but see your body language. A big part of communication is nonverbal communication Which can be lost in situations where you are communicating over the phone. If you cannot communicate with your co-parent in person then you should, however, have a conversation over the phone. Allowing him or her to hear your voice and be able to rapidly communicate ideas and concerns may be able to help you all reach a resolution in somewhat quick order.
If you find yourself in a situation where you and your co-parent are completely unable to communicate with one another then you may be best served by utilizing technology. I am not a huge fan of text messaging to communicate broad ideas or issues but there is one option that you can choose from. There are many co-parenting websites that exist to help persons like you and your co-parent communicate with one another if in person or over the phone talks do not work for you all. Your final orders from the family court may actually instruct you all on how to use these co-parenting websites to help further your co-parenting relationship.
The bottom line is that you need to be clear with your co-parent about your position on this issue and about what risks you believe are inherent in allowing your child to go into the world and act as if there were not a pandemic going on. Doing so with facts and objective information Is a better place to start, in my opinion, than simply utilizing emotion to make your arguments for you.
Option number 2 and option #3: speak to a family law attorney and consider filing a lawsuit
These are, admittedly, the most extreme options for you to choose from out of the three. It's my experience working in the world of family law that if you communicate honestly your concerns with your co-parent that he or she would be willing to meet you halfway on topics like the health and safety of your child. However, if you are unable to resolve this issue directly with your co-parent then you may want to speak to an attorney about your options.
Speaking to an attorney before trying to take legal action is a great course to go down because you can determine what case, if any, you have as far as filing an enforcement or modification lawsuit. I specify these two type of cases because these are the most typical secondary family law cases to be filed after an initial child custody or divorce case. An enforcement case seeks to enforce the terms of a family court order when an alleged violation has occurred. A modification case seeks to modify a court order in the event that the circumstances of you, your co-parent or your child have materially and substantially changed since the rendition of that prior order.
From my perspective, the tricky part of filing an enforcement lawsuit when your co-parent decides to ignore quarantine recommendations is that there is likely nothing explicitly stated in your orders that requires him or her to follow government recommendations regarding the health and safety of your child. For instance, I doubt very seriously that there are any paragraphs or language in your family court order that would necessitate either of you following a recommendation by the government to quarantine yourselves and your child.
More broadly speaking, I suppose that you could make arguments that your ex-spouse’s actions put your child's health in jeopardy and as a parent and conservator of your child each of you has a duty to do what is best for their health and well-being. However, to modify a court order we would likely need to be in a situation where the pandemic is expected to last for an extended period of time. My hope, as I'm sure it is yours, is that this is only a temporary change to our normal way of life. As far as an enforcement is concerned you would need to have specific evidence of each violation and dates on which the violations occurred. To consider a quarantine avoidance as a violation of a court order is something that you would likely need to talk to a family law attorney about before proceeding with.
Questions about the material contained in today's blog post? Contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan
If you have any questions about the material contained in today's blog post, please do not hesitate to contact the Law Office of Bryan Fagan. Our licensed family law attorneys offer free of charge consultation six days a week in person, over the phone and via video. We are here to serve you and our community in whatever capacity we are able to. Flexible payment plans, as well as methods of representation are available to our clients. Contact us today to learn more about how we can serve you and your family.