Even the co-parents who work seamlessly together and practice respectful and effective communication can still be challenged by an unexpected event – in this case, the COVID-19 pandemic. For those who struggle with co-parenting on a normal day, the addition of an unexpected stressor that upends daily life can further frustrate an already difficult situation.
As family law attorneys, our goal is to work with parents to create a parenting plan that accounts for all situations: schooling, holidays, vacations, communication, and more. Yet, recent weeks have demonstrated that not all situations can be predicted. I don’t think any of us could have guessed that this year would bring the statewide closure of businesses, schools, and an order from our Governor to stay home, not to mention the larger national and global implications related to COVID-19. With this unique situation, I have heard questions from many parents asking how social distancing and related safety concerns affect them.
Some things that parents are thinking about include:
- Do I have to follow my parenting plan during this time when it means that I, or my child, will have to leave home?
- I’m following strict social distancing guidelines; what happens if the other parent is not?
- What happens if there is a complete lock down while my children are with the other parent?
- Should my children bring their clothing and other personal items back and forth?
- What if the other parent is dating or married to someone who is considered essential and is continuing to work in the community?
- What happens if I get sick? What happens it my child gets sick? What happens if the other parent gets sick?
- School vacation has been cancelled! My co-parent still wants to follow the parenting plan regarding April break, what do I do?
As of right now, New Hampshire’s stay home order does not restrict citizens from leaving home to visit a spouse, parent, or child. Unless and until the Governor or the Court’s issue an order saying otherwise, you should continue to follow your parenting plan if at all possible, with lots of hand washing and sanitizing in between homes. As we know, this is a rapidly evolving situation. If circumstances arise that prevent you from following your normal schedule, try to work with the other parent to come up with solutions. If your school district cancels April break, one suggestion might be to “make up” the time during the summer or by adding an extra day of parenting time here and there. Be creative and do what works best for you and your co-parent. If you need help navigating those difficult conversations, please reach out and we can talk through your options and the best way to respond.
In some cases, an emergency situation may arise. For instance, what if you learn that the other parent or one of their household members has become sick and/or quarantined, but they still want parenting time. Court intervention may be necessary. New Hampshire Courts have suspended most hearings and have limited public access to courthouses through May 4th. However, the Courts are still open to individuals filing requests for child-related emergency relief in divorce or parenting cases, among other limited exceptions. If you are in a situation where your child may be at risk of harm, please reach out to talk through your options. Of course, we always encourage parents to try and work together to do what is in the best interests of their children before going into Court.
One consideration moving forward is whether you would like to update your parenting plan to address how any future emergency decisions will be made. Such an addition could include how immediate disputes will be resolved, like using a mediator. At Morneau Law, we are offering phone meetings and consultations, as well as virtual conferences using Zoom, to meet your needs while doing our part to practice social distancing. If you need our help, we are here for you.
Our team and clients are like you, learning about this pandemic day by day. Here are a couple of the resources that we have found helpful:
If you have any questions about your orders or parenting schedules please feel free to reach out. If you or someone you know could benefit from this information, please share it! To meet with one of our experienced family attorneys, please give us a call at 603-943-5647. We are in downtown Nashua, NH and have flexible hours. We are here to help you and are happy to talk through your individual situation and what your options are moving forward.