Parenting Time and Pandemics: What You Need to Know

By: Andrea C. Mackaronis Practice Area: Family Law

With novel coronavirus spreading like wildfire, parents and families throughout the world are trying to adapt. The “rules” are changing on a daily basis – if you can go out, when you can go out, with how many people, and for what purpose. As of TODAY, March 24, 2020, in New Jersey, there are restrictions on almost every person in every industry. But there are no restrictions in place that would prevent any regularly scheduled parenting time from taking place. None. Zilch. Zero.

I understand the panic and fear that many are experiencing at this time. We are not used to stay-at-home or sheltering in place mandates. We all want to keep our children, ourselves, our families, and our communities safe. We all want do our part to “flatten the curve” – to slow the spread of this virus so that our heroic healthcare workers have the manpower and resources to care for the sickest among us.

This should be one of the times that co-parents come together, in the best interest of their children, to present a united front and communicate in an age-appropriate manner with your children about COVID-19 and how it may impact their day-to-day life, including parenting time if necessary. To assist your children in understanding the virus and why schools are closed, click here:  What Kids Want to Know about COVID-19.

Parties should come up with a plan for communication (if they feel that their current communication is lacking), a plan for home-schooling, for unexpected illness, and for any other issues that they anticipate.

It may be necessary to adjust schedules based upon whether either parent is a “mandatory” worker who has to leave the house despite the restriction upon movement, as there is not necessarily any work-related childcare to fall back on. Parties who use grandparents as caretakers may have additional difficulties.

Agree that both households will take appropriate precautions. Limit your exposure. Stay home. Disinfect your space. Wash your hands – and make sure that your children wash their hands too. Enforce the rules – no in-person playdates, no playing in playgrounds, no leaving the house for any unapproved reason.

 And whatever you DO agree on – understand that the situation is fluid, and what is working today may not be working (or possible) tomorrow. Endeavor to treat each other with respect and understanding. This is uncharted territory for all of us, and we’re trying to do our best to figure it out as we go. 

If you have an already tense relationship with your child’s other parent, COVID-19 certainly is not going to make things easier. If you cannot come together (figuratively, of course) to talk through these issues until there is mutual understanding and agreement, then please do not hesitate to reach out to a trained family law attorney who can mediate your issues or provide parenting coordination services, or to a licensed mental health professional who can help you work through your differences.

There will be many difficulties in the months to follow, both personally and professionally. But the work that you do today to reassure your children and to stay safe and healthy during this time will be worth it. The family law attorneys at Hoagland Longo are here to help you through this and anything else. Please call me at 732-545-4717 or e-mail me at amackaronis@hoaglandlongo.com if you need any assistance or would like to talk about your case.