Recently KidsFirst, an organization that provides support and education for parents undergoing a separation or divorce, released a list of 7 guidelines for parents to follow while coparenting and sharing custody of their children during the COVID-19 outbreak. The guidelines were authored by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts; you can review the guidelines in their entirety here.
In essence, the guidelines are aimed at how best to cope with child-support and contact schedules set by the Court while also practicing safe “social-distancing.” The basics of the guidelines advise parents to remain client with their current child contact schedules and take extra measures to make sure they and their kids remain healthy. The Conley & Wirick team echoes that advice; make sure that you are not giving in to the fear by giving up your fundamental rights to have contact with your children, especially if there is a court-ordered schedule put in place already.
If you are worried about how to balance your contact schedule with your attempts to quarantine and social-distance, well fear not because you aren't alone. There is a lot of uncertainty and fear around the country right now about the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, and we have heard expressed over the recent weeks a growing concern that following the regularly scheduled contact schedule will increase the risk of spreading the virus between households and to the children. Recently, I was approached by a friend who only recently entered into a final order that included a contact schedule with the father of her son. The order was entered prior to the rise in panic over COVID-19 and did not contain a contingency plan for such a situation (nor should it, really). She told me that her son's Dad was concerned that she was a healthcare worker and as such there was a higher probability that she would come into contact with COVID-19 and bring it home with her. He then suggested that they cease following the contact schedule for the pendency of the crisis and that their son remain with him to decrease his risk of catching the virus. I find this to be a useful example, because it is admittedly true that healthcare workers are at a higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than the rest of the population. It is just in the nature of the job. But while I certainly believe these concerns are valid, it is Conley & Wirick's position that ceasing to follow your court-ordered schedule is not in the best interests of you or your child. At the moment, nobody knows how long the current state of “quarantine” will last but it will likely continue to at least May and to some extent maybe even June. The city of Portland just announced that it is extending the currently active stay-at-home order until April 27, closely followed by Governor Mills announcing a statewide stay-at-home order effective until April 30, so we now know we are in for at least another month as this being the new normal. In all this madness, it would be unreasonable to expect any parents (healthcare workers included) to go an indefinite period of time without seeing their children. Time with your children is valuable, and you won't get that time back when this is over.
Therefore, you should stick to the schedule set by the court the best that you can. Be willing and able to be flexible in these unpredictable times, but do not allow yourself to be pressured into giving up valuable time with your children. Concerns about COVID-19 are legitimate, but do not let the panic currently gripping the country drive you to take irrational measures that get in the way of coparenting. Instead, you may want to just ensure more than others that you are following CDC guidelines. Wash your hands frequently, routinely sanitize surfaces, distance yourself from people outside of your family unit or household the best that you can and encourage healthy habits with your children as well.
It is important to do everything in your power to keep your family healthy, especially your children, but do not feel as though you must immediately defer to the absolute most extreme measure. Be flexible, be cooperative and understanding, be healthy, but don't panic and don't give up your rights as a parent.
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