Everyone has experienced unforeseen challenges over the past few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses, careers, education and family lives have all been forced to adapt in unprecedented ways just in order to survive. New York families with divorced parents of young children have faced particular challenges regarding child custody, visitation and financial support obligations.
These challenges are potentially costly, especially if parties cannot agree on fair and amicable solutions to weather the storm. Sometimes divorced parents need legal advice or mediation to arrive at workable solutions. Williamson, Clune & Stevens, a family law firm in Ithaca, Syracuse, Elmira and Binghamton, is ready to provide counsel and legal assistance to these struggling families.
The Main Challenges Divorced Parents Face
Divorced parents who are trying to abide by their court-mandated agreements are finding very little guidance from the various states. While a New York administrative judge has ordered parents to “act reasonably,” that provides little hard advice. Especially when parents share custody, visitation arrangements or other family members are involved in the care of children.
For example, children are out of school, not participating in organized sports and the enforced idleness has forced many families to seek alternative childcare arrangements while the parents are at work. But what if a nearby grandparent who used to be the go-to childcare option is especially vulnerable to contracting the coronavirus? If children and others are supposed to practice social distancing, especially from vulnerable people, where does that leave this family?
Or what of travel restrictions that prevent a parent in New York from visiting or picking up a child who resides with the other parent in New Jersey or Pennsylvania? Court mandated visitation and custody arrangements are not violated lightly, but what about abiding by recent COVID-19 related instructions from state governors or local mayors?
An April story in the New York Times shared a particular dilemma when a New Jersey physician began treating patients at an urgent care center. Although the physician was assigned to treat only non-coronavirus patients, her soon-to-be ex-husband filed for and obtained a court order that granted him temporary sole custody of their children, out of fear for their (and his own) health.
The physician had to return to a safer, tele-medicine type role before the judge would reverse the order and allow her to see her children. The physician in question asked the Times, “Are our children going to be taken away from us because we are on the front lines helping people?”
Another major area of concern, and much contention, is spousal and child support payments. With job cuts, unemployment and altered custody arrangements, many parents wish to file requests for the court to revise their support obligations. Of course, custodial parents are just as concerned about support being reduced, thereby making life harder on them and the children in their custody. The state guidelines have maintained that all matrimonial orders remain in force, but how will the court address inequities due to the forced restrictions and consequences of COVID-19?
Making the Best of a Tough Situation
Williamson, Clune & Stevens, child custody lawyers in Ithaca and Syracuse, urge divorced parents to exercise common sense, patience and a great deal of flexibility when considering their own family arrangements. A good guideline to use can be found in the joint statement from The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts and The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, which was released on March 19, 2020.
The statement acknowledges the unique challenges parents and families face due to COVID-19 and basically encourages flexibility, patience and innovation where possible to keep families connected. Video calls are a great way for families to see and hear one another and catch up. The guidelines also encourage exchanging or working out alternate visitation times to accommodate work schedules and other difficulties.
It also says, “Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take serious concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.” This statement seems to indicate flexibility from the courts with families who exercise good judgement and work together without conflict. It also warns of potential strong treatment toward families that do not.
When you need advice or representation from experienced divorce lawyers in Ithaca, Elmira, Binghamton and Syracuse, New York, turn to Williamson, Clune & Stevens. Our community-focused attorneys always seek the best possible solutions to assist struggling families. If you are a divorced parent who is struggling to cope with visitation, custodial or support issues precipitated by COVID-19, call us at 607-273-3339 to schedule a consultation with one of our compassionate family law attorneys.