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  • Apr 1st, 2020

    Family Law, Child Support, & Child Custody Questions about COVID-19

    Child Custody, Child Support, Family Law

    Family Law Questions about CONVID-19

    I have been inundated with calls and emails asking what to do about custody schedules and the CONVID-19 pandemic.  Here are the answers to the most common questions:

    First, what is the Stay at Home Order?

    Basically, it requires people to remain in their homes whenever possible for the next 30 days. This is to help stop the spread of the virus known as COVID-19 or the corona-virus. You are supposed to stay at home, but there are exceptions for essential activities.

    Do I still need to do Custody exchanges?

    The quick and simple answer to this question is YES, you still need to follow your parenting plan, and failure to do so will likely get you in trouble once things calm down. You still have a Court Order in place, and the exchanges to comply with that Order are considered an “essential activity”. Specifically, the Stay at Home Order states that “a parent with legal custody to transfer the physical custody of a child” is an essential activity.

    We are supposed to exchange at a public place, so do I have to do that?

    My suggestion is that if you are allowed to communicate with the other parent, see if you can work out an alternative arrangement/location exchange that would limit your child’s exposure to the outside world. Perhaps you meet in the parking lot and the child goes from car to car without going inside to exchange. Keep it at the same location to avoid confusion and unnecessary problems, just cut out the part where you go inside, which might not even be an option at this point. Communicate in writing when possible when changing things.

    What happens with custody exchanges if my child gets sick?

    My suggestion is to use common sense, and do not use your child’s illness as a reason to keep your child from the other parent. However, you and your ex must try and work together to do what is best for the child. Perhaps you can agree to go for longer periods of time with less back-and-forth for the time being. Regardless, you need to be sure that you share important information with the other parent and send that with the child, including names of medications (and send them along if possible), doses the child has been taking, and times the child had been taking the medication. Write it down and send it with the child. If you have multiple children, perhaps you might discuss keeping the other children away from the child who has the illness. If you need to take the child to the hospital, you need to notify the other parent as soon as possible, including the name of the hospital you are going to. If there are doctor appointments, try and schedule them when the other parent can make it as well.

    What happens with custody exchanges if I get sick?

    My suggestion is to be transparent with the other parent as much as possible. I get you might not like them much, but you need to focus on what is best for your child(ren) and you at this point. If the other parent can care for the child while you are sick, I would suggest you do that. If you cannot transport the child, you need to ensure you have someone else do it for you and communicate that to the other parent.

    What if my ex is sick? Do I still need to follow the Order?

    At this point, I would say use your best judgment. I would like to think that everyone would think about their children first, but I have seen too much in my career to be that naïve. If your child is at risk due to a preexisting condition where getting this virus would potentially cause great harm, I would suggest that you offer makeup time for any time missed due to illness. I would also call your attorney if you have one and ask for guidance.

    I am not earning money right now, so do I still need to pay child support?

    The simple answer is yes, you still need to pay child support. If you cannot pay the full amount, pay what you can. If a Judge determines that you are not doing what you can to comply with their Order, you may find yourself in Contempt of Court. If you think that you will be out of work for quite some time, you need to consider filing a Motion to Modify as the support can only be changed retroactively to when you have served the other parent.

    Since my ex lost his job and is not paying child support, do I still need to exchange the child since they are not following the Orders?

    The answer is yes, you still need to follow the parenting plan. Children are not for sale, and your ex’s inability to pay you child support does not have any relevance to the custody order. Support and custody are two very different issues, and tying them together is a quick way to make a Judge angry.

    My child’s school has been canceled and is doing remote learning. Do I need to do school work with my children?

    Yep, you do. You will also need to communicate with the other parent about what you worked on, what struggles there were, etc. Do not let your dislike for the other parent stop your children’s educational progress.

    My child’s daycare closed and I need to work. Do I need to tell the other parent who is watching the child(ren)?

    Yes, you need to be sure the other parent has the name and contact information of who is watching the children. If you have joint legal custody, you technically need to get their approval first. If your ex has proposed someone you do not particularly care for, I would strongly suggest not rejecting that person unless there is really a safety issue. The Judge will not care if you did not like your ex-in-laws. If your children will be safe, agreed (even if it is just provisional approval and will be revisited in the near future).

    My ex is working and I am at home. Can I get the children while he is at work?

    It is always preferable for the children to be with a parent over a 3rd party. I would try and work this out with your ex and see if you could come to an agreement. Remind the other parent that limiting exposure for your children is important, and this is a safety issue. Do not demand to have the kids, however. Remember, you get more flies with honey than vinegar.

    I owe back child support.  Is my ex going to get my stimulus check?

    The answer, as of this writing, is no.  However, you are not going to get it either.  The government will just keep your check, so it benefits you in no way.  Your arrearages (past owed support) doesn’t drop, nor do you get the money.  It is a lose/lose situation if you owe money for child support. 

    Who gets the stimulus check for the child?

    From what I can understand, the check will be mailed to the person who claimed the child for taxes.  If you are in the middle of a divorce, things are a little trickier.  The common sense thing to do is to split it if you have not filed separately yet.  However, if this is not agreeable, you might put it in a joint account or one of your attorney’s trust accounts until the Court has time to decide what to do with it.  Let me caution you: do not spend a lot of time with your attorney discussing this.  You are likely going to spend more in legal fees than you would stand to get. 

    The reality is that this is a confusing and scary time for your children, and you, as parents, need to do what you can to make this as easy as possible on your children. It is an opportunity to show that you can work together, especially if you are in the middle of a case. What you do during this time will weigh heavily on how the Judge makes their decision once things return to normal. Screwing up now might have long term consequences in regard to your custody order.

    Be kind to the other parent, be patient and flexible, and above all, do what you can to ensure your child is happy and healthy.

    If you have any questions, Haefner Law Office is available via email and telephone during this time and can be reached at (314) 200-6101. Good luck and stay safe!