New Child Custody Issues Arise During COVID-19

Faith Miller Managing Partner at Miller Zeiderman LLP, authors the latest article for her blog. Read the full article below.

How do COVID Stipulations help New York Parents who are divorcing or already divorced determine the Best Interests of their Child(ren)?

During this time of COVID-19, Faith Miller has recommended to her clients that they implement a written stipulation to ensure the parties abide by all government regulations, thereby providing strong protection for the children’s health and best interests. This stipulation applies to parents currently divorcing as well as those already divorced who have an access schedule in place.

In the COVID-19 stipulation, Faith spells out the government protocols for parents to follow to help protect them and their children from contracting the virus. The protocols address not only parenting time, but the time before and after either parent has access as well as protocols in the event that a close family member tests positive for COVID-19.

Following the advice of the nation’s top health experts, as well as federal and New York State regulations, Faith has advised couples on COVID-19 protocols, especially as they relate to children’s safety. While her protocols are rooted in the original guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control, the stipulation is also versatile enough to adapt to updated guidelines and state laws as New York reopens.

The COVID-19 stipulation Faith recommends and drafts also crafts additional protocols, expanding on the standard recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and adapting the stipulation to address each family’s unique situation and concerns.

Couples with trust and communication issues can find themselves facing crisis-level fears involving their children’s health. “Divorce leads couples to worry about what goes on in the other parent’s home or when that parent is with the children. During the pandemic some of those concerns may be greater than ever,” says Miller. Couples must endure COVID-19 worries for the foreseeable future; everyday life must be conducted in a new and cautious way. Couples looking forward to the freedom of divorce must instead adhere to certain limitations on their behavior. The current crisis adds to the usual stresses of divorce.

Are many divorced or divorcing couples having issues with COVID-related access to their children?

Right now, many of Faith’s new cases include parents who are facing COVID-related access concerns. Constant conflicts over pandemic-era lifestyle and custodial issues can make a parent want to adjust their prior custody agreement. In many of these cases, one parent seeks to restrict the other parent’s access to the children based on that parent’s refusal to abide by state and federal protocols. Courts are finding these arguments persuasive during this time when protection from the virus may hinge on responsible behavior. Parents who agree to the conditions as can ask the court to order their stipulation, which makes it binding and an enforceable agreement. Having a united and consistent approach to behavior and actions during this time is also reassuring and good for the parties’ children.

How can divorce COVID stipulations help couples manage child(ren) custody issues?

All of these concerns highlight why these times call for experienced and thoughtful family law attorneys. Faith Miller and her team stand ready to help parents manage and mitigate the stressors of divorce, including those associated with COVID-19.

Her model stipulation outlines:

·      Ensuring that the children follow COVID-19 protocols and avoid social gatherings

·      What to do if a party or a close family member tests positive for the virus

·      What to do if your child tests positive for the virus

·      Disinfecting objects and surfaces prior to bringing them in contact with a child

·      Strictly defined “essential purposes” permitting either party to leave a sheltering-in-place order

·      The conditions under which a third party can enter the home