April 16, 2021 | Share
COVID’S Impact on Child Custody Arrangements
Our McKinney Divorce Lawyers Help Parents Prepare
The sudden closures and lifestyle changes that took the world by surprise at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic forced some new procedures in child custody arrangements that are now becoming standard in McKinney and elsewhere throughout the state. Some of these changes can be helpful in any environment, while others may be more useful during times of restriction caused by current or future health concerns, weather issues, or other emergency situations.
Our McKinney divorce lawyers want parents to be prepared to overcome the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities in the post-COVID world. That said, it may be a good idea to modify existing custody agreements, create a separate contract, or at least be prepared for flexibility in implementing provisions regarding child visitation and other issues.
Parenting Issues Affected by COVID
It may be difficult to think of any aspect of life not impacted by the pandemic, but some issues can create considerable difficulties for parents living in separate households, especially with regard to shared parenting situations. Some questions that arise include:
- How do you ensure that online learning is properly supported and supervised?
- How can you fairly manage work time and supervisory time?
- What contact should be allowed with friends or neighbors?
- Should the rules be different if one parent is located in a “hot spot?”
- What happens when parents apply different social distance guidelines?
- What restrictions should be applied when the children are not around?
- Should the exchange location be changed?
- Should one parent be allowed to travel out of state with a child?
These questions do not end with simple yes or no answers, but they can raise potentially complex issues that need to be discussed and agreed upon. For instance, if parents routinely meet at a child’s sporting event or a public location to make the transfer, COVID closures require a new arrangement. If the transfer location involved travel to an area that is considered to be a hot spot or one that made a parent feel uncomfortable, the need to change the location might be less clear-cut.
An Attorney Can Help When One Parent’s Situation Potentially Poses a Risk
In addition to situations where one parent may live in a hot spot, there are other circumstances where a parent’s situation could be viewed as posing additional COVID risks to a child and the child’s other parent and family members. In some situations, parents considered to be frontline workers during the pandemic, such as those working in hospitals or essential businesses, were often asked to give up custody of their children.
Some parents modified child custody agreements to temporarily forfeit custody or visitation rights. Others adopted in-home separation procedures to reduce the risk. Similar issues arise if someone in one parent’s home has a high rate of contact with infected persons or if a person in the home is at greater risk of suffering complications from COVID.
Legal Precedent for Handling COVID Issues with Child Custody
While the current pandemic draws comparisons to other situations, there is no true legal precedent for handling many of the issues we currently face, including those involving child custody arrangements. Courts generally look at situations on a case-by-case basis, making decisions in what the court perceives to be a child’s best interests. That perception may be colored by a judge’s personal inclinations when weighing the risks and benefits of contact with parents in different situations. Working with a divorce attorney skilled in advocacy can help parents ensure their perspective is taken into full consideration by the court.
If a parent feels like a child is placed in unnecessary danger, they may ask their lawyer to help seek an emergency modification to conservatorship arrangements. However, there are ways to resolve conflict on COVID issues related to custody without court intervention.
Our Divorce Attorney Can Draft a COVID Contract Between Parents
Many family law attorneys have helped parents resolve COVID challenges by drafting an agreement sometimes referred to as a “COVID contract.” This agreement would be set up to remain in force only until a particular date or until a specified condition occurs. An agreement could be set up to end once a child returns to school or one or both parents return to working full time in the office. The contract might also include a review date, at which time the parties decide whether to extend the agreement.
A COVID contract could address many areas of conflict from the list of questions raised above. In addition, the agreement could cover topics such as:
- How to make up for lost parenting time
- Visitations with grandparents
- Transportation and travel restrictions
- Additional communications online or by phone
- Testing and vaccination expectations
- Qualifications for attending social events or participating in activities
- What happens if one parent needs to relocate temporarily or permanently.
One benefit of having a McKinney divorce attorney draft a custom agreement for one set of parents is that the unique circumstances can be taken into consideration. Both the topics addressed and the solutions for handling each issue can be tailored to the children and their parents’ needs.
Parents in the Middle of the Divorce Process
Parents who have not yet finalized a child custody agreement have been put in a tough situation in many cases. One parent may dominate the decision-making process, and it can be tempting to delay coming to terms with various decisions. However, in the absence of an agreement, one parent’s rights can be trampled, and the potential for child alienation can increase.
A knowledgeable child custody attorney may recommend creating two agreements - one to operate during the pandemic or in other emergency situations, and another that remains in force most of the time. Parties could determine the factors that trigger the “emergency” provisions.
A McKinney Divorce Attorney Can Suggest COVID Adjustments for Your Situation
A divorce attorney with experience negotiating agreements between parents can suggest ways to create a new temporary or permanent parenting plan to fit with a family’s needs during and after the COVID pandemic. A family lawyer can help parents set rules for schooling, create an equitable division of time, establish guidelines for visits and activities outside the home, and many other issues. To learn more about how a dedicated child custody lawyer could help reduce and resolve conflicts caused by COVID 19, contact us for a consultation.
Categories: Family Law & Divorce