As couples self-isolate due to the coronavirus, it is anticipated there will be an increase in the number of divorces. The isolation will likely put a further strain on relationships where problems already exist. However, for couples that are already divorced and sharing custody of their children, here are some helpful tips to navigate co-parenting.
Ethan Kottler: Hey, everyone. This is Ethan Kottler, Lee Drizin Office. I’ve been asked by a lot of my clients about what to do in this new age of coronavirus as they always seem to have custody issues. Today, we’re facing some new issues that we never thought we’d have to. I quickly came up with this seven-tip guide for all my clients and parents out there who have to navigate this new age of co-parenting in the world of COVID-19.
Number one, it’s important. Real simple, be healthy and comply with all the CDC and local and state guidelines, and model good behavior for your children with intensive hands washing, wiping down services and other objects that are frequently touched to maintain social distancing. I’ve got a young kid who loves to touch everything when you go to the park, when it’s open and everywhere else. You just got to be vigilant. You don’t want one parent being vigilant about hand washing and taking all this stuff seriously, and another parent who thinks we should open up the state tomorrow, which I’m sure we have plenty of people who do.
You don’t want to give the other parent more ammunition against you in court. Just be healthy and do what the county and the state is telling you to do. We’re slowly opening up now and, hopefully, we’ll open up a little bit more soon. We’re all going to get through this, but just comply with all the regulations that the governor’s put out there for us. This also means to stay informed, stay in touch with the most reliable media sources.
The Clark County School District almost daily sends out emails and calls about what’s going on, where the food banks are, what education services they expect your kid to participate in. My kid has to do distance learning as he’s in the Clark County School District. I’m surprised that he’s only one of the few kids in his class to actually show up to the Zoom meetings that the teacher sets up. Do it. If you’re ever in front of a judge fighting over custody, you’re going to look better than the other parent who isn’t compliant with all these rules and regulations.
Also be mindful, be honest about the serious of the pandemic, but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time, and it will. My wife is more guilty of this than anyone. As soon as we come home, she turns on the CNN, sometimes it may be Fox News. Our kid is being bombarded with impending disaster news because the pundits and the news agencies are running out of things to talk about with this pandemic. They’re talking about how many people are dead, how many people are going to die, how many people are not getting these medical, personal protection equipment that they need. It’s not good, your kids sitting there absorbing all this stuff.
You think you’re depressed, your kid’s depressed. Your kid’s not going to school, your kid’s not going after-school events, your kid’s not participating in sports. My kids are having a tough time with this. My advice is, and we do this before there was a pandemic, you have a night where there’s no TV, there’s no electronics, you have a game night, you have board games. In fact, people are doing this.
I’ve been reading that Hasbro and Mattel have been having trouble because people aren’t buying dolls, they’re buying board games. That’s good for you and your family. If you do this, it’s going to be a lot more fun and you’re not going to notice all the craziness going on out there. I have an attorney friend who made a point not to watch the TV for a whole week for news. He was the happiest one of my friends, let me tell you.
Again, don’t leave the news on all the time, but talk to your kids about what’s going on and answer their questions. Have a conversation with them about it. Again, always, especially now, be compliant with court orders and custody agreements. I always tell my clients, “You don’t want to be standing in front of a judge and having to explain some behavior that was not in your court order or against the court order.” Follow the court order is the best advice I can ever give any parent who has a custody agreement in the Clark County judicial system.
The order exists for your protection and your kid. Your kid loves routine. Your kid is struggling for it now because the routine has been disrupted. They’re no longer going to school. If they’re supposed to see a certain parent one day, and they can’t because that parent is an essential worker, they’re a an EMT person, they’re a doctor, they’re a nurse, and I’ve had people who had to change their schedules because of that, they can’t see them, do a video chat with that other parent. Do a phone chat.
You want to show the judge, if you’re standing in front of the judge, you did everything you could to maintain that custody order and agreement. Again, even though there’s no school and a lot of custody agreements, talk about picking your kid up after school and that’s when the visit starts. If your school ends at 2:20, do the visit at 2:20. Let’s be creative. It’s a foolish to expect things aren’t going to change, but when you’re not able to fly, not take your vacations, and we had a lot of vacations planned that are no longer happening, you got to do other things.
When I was starting this meeting, I accidentally typed in zoo.com instead of Zoom, and there’s a whole world of zoos out there that you can visit online. There’s a lot of national museums you can visit online and have a virtual tour. Sit down and do that with your kid instead of watching TV. It’s not quite as good as being there in person, but in some ways it’s better because you don’t have to deal with the crowds.
Next, be transparent and be honest to the other parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus. People love to take advantage. If you’re in a high stress, custody arrangement with your other parent and they love to take you to court over every little thing, people that take people to court over getting a haircut at the wrong time, they’ll do it over the coronavirus. They’ll say, “Look, they were being negligent, and they weren’t washing their hands, and they didn’t tell me that my kid was exposed, or they were around someone who was exposed.”
Tell the other parent, say, “Everything’s fine, or “They have symptoms,” this is what we should do follow it up with an email so you can show the court later, “Hey, I told them. I didn’t think there was anything wrong, but I wanted them to know everything because I’m a good parent.”
I love this one, be generous. Again, you have a parent who can’t have their visits because they’re an essential worker, they’re a medical professional, do video chats. Let me tell you, I have a case now where I have a client who’s a casino worker, she’s no longer working, the other parent is. She’s taken more of the role of watching the kid. She’s making sure that the other parent has video chats and other visits with him. When the court hears, when we’re in court fighting about the next custody to drop, when my client is able to say, “Look, I gave him extra time.” The judge is going to be very lenient with her when it comes to making any decisions in her favor.
That leads to being understanding and all the economic hardships that we’re dealing with. Attorneys are dealing with them too. Our clients are you. My clients are casino workers. My clients are people who are out of work. That filters on us, up to us. Those people who I represent, who one’s a casino worker, the other one’s coming into the house and helping out, buying extra food for the other parents, this will speak volumes to a judge when you’re in front of him or her at your next hearing. You want the judge to want to help you. Don’t give the judge any reasons to rule against you. If you can show the judge that you’re understanding and helping out
in the best in the best interest of the child– I can’t tell you how many times judge will say, “I don’t care about you guys, I care about your kids. You need to act like adults and take care of the kids.” If you’re a parent who is supposed to receive child support and the other parent is out of work, you should just voluntarily agree to accept the minimum payment of $100 a month for each kid or it’s still around, depending on how many kids you have, between 17% and 20% of their income.
Figure out what that is given the stimulus package and the unemployment that they’re now receiving since they’re not receiving their regular paycheck. In some cases it’s more, so maybe you could get a little windfall, but be understanding. Again, adversity can be an opportunity for the parents to come together. I’m surprised at my high-conflict cases, how many parents are working together for the kids, because the kids are the one that are really suffering here.
My kids have been depressed about not being able to go to school or go to his basketball camp. They’re bored and there’s nowhere to go. If the parents are fighting, it’s going to make everything 10 times worse for your kid. Hopefully, you guys can get together. Your kids will reflect that. I can’t tell you how many times– Looking at the last part of the slide, it’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what’s happening to keep their child safe.
I’ve read so many interviews and reports where the kid honestly is talking to a therapist about how they view their parents. I can’t tell you how many times the parent is surprised about what the kid says about them. You want your kid to say, “My parents love me and they did what’s best for me.” Hope that was helpful to you guys. You can go to our website at www.drizinlaw.com, download free eBooks, get our guide to divorce.
We do estate planning and help you out with probate. Be safe out there. As always, you can call with any questions or email us. I’ll be happy to answer it.