As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the nation, countless Americans find themselves facing unexpected challenges. From skyrocketing unemployment to the difficulties of navigating quarantines, the last few months have impacted US citizens in a multitude of ways.
In that time, child custody has emerged as an unexpected battleground for co-parents. If you're involved in a child custody arrangement, understanding how COVID-19 is affecting custody in Florida can help you do what's best for your child. In today's blog, we explore why child custody is an issue in the era of COVID-19, and what parents can do to address custody disputes.
The Economic Impact of COVID-19: an Instigator
One of the major factors playing into child custody disputes right now is the sudden lack of financial stability facing parents across the US.
So far, over 40 million Americans have lost jobs due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Almost 1/3 of US Citizens missed paying some rent in July. Even worse, economists estimate that as many as 1/3 of the jobs lost to the pandemic may not come back soon, and the US Gross Domestic Product shrunk by 32.9%, marking the biggest economic downturn in almost a century.
For many co-parents, it's an extra stressor they don't need. Parents who keep their jobs may be forced to work from home, creating issues as they try to look after kids and work at the same time (more on this later). Parents who lose their jobs are forced to balance job searching in a bad market with childcare, which can also be stressful.
That's to say nothing of the impact of COVID-19 on many people's personal finances. Parents who suddenly lose their primary source of income may be unable to provide the same quality of life for their children, which can create tension in the co-parenting relationship.
Essential Workers: Forced to Choose Between Children & Work
Recently, The New York Times ran an excellent piece on Dr. Mayorquin, a New Jersey physician who lost custody of her kids to an emergency custody modification order filed by her ex-husband. His reasoning? She was interacting with patients, and he didn't want to risk himself or the kids contracting COVID-19.
Dr. Mayorquin was eventually able to regain custody of her kids, but only after she agreed to stop working with patients in the hospital and instead transitioned into telemedicine. It was a difficult move for her since she wanted to help COVID patients recover in-person.
Essential workers across the nation are facing similar plights, but many of them—like cashiers and restaurant industry workers—don't have the option to work remotely. They're forced into a position where they have to choose between seeing their kids and working. If they quit working to see their children more, they may not be able to receive unemployment benefits, which could also result in the loss of custody if they can't support their children. It's the definition of a lose-lose scenario for many parents.
Children Schooling from Home Is an Issue for Many Co-Parents
As a result of COVID-19, schools across the nation have closed their doors. Many parents are now forced to occupy the role of a de-facto teacher's aide and help their children navigate online classes while simultaneously taking care of their own affairs.
For parents who now have to work from home, it can be challenging to juggle work with helping kids succeed academically. For parents on the hunt for a job, leaving the kid at home to school themself while out searching or attending interviews may be something of a risky prospect.
That's not even touching on parents whose homes may not be equipped to handle multiple devices using videoconferencing platforms at the same time. All told, it's a sticky situation for co-parents.
What Can Co-Parents Do to Make Custody Easier?
If you and your co-parent are on amicable terms with one another, you should sit down and discuss the following:
- Where you'll exchange custody. School and childcare centers are off the table for many parents as custody-exchange locations right now. You should talk about where you can exchange custody without it being an issue for either party.
- How you'll handle academic expectations. Assuming your kid is attending school online, you should take some time to rethink the academic expectations you have for your child. You may need to establish new boundaries for them concerning homework, or devote more time to helping them with their schoolwork.
- What finances are looking like. If either of you loses your job, that could impact your ability to care for your child. At the end of the day, you should both be focused on prioritizing your child's best interests. Discussing your financial stability can help you make the right decision for your kid.
- Whether either of you is at high risk of coming into contact with or suffering side-effects from the virus. If you or your child are at a high risk of suffering from the virus should you contract you, you should discuss what extra precautions you'll take to minimize the chances of COVID-19 spreading from one household to another.
- What measures you can take if one parent can't see the children anymore. One parent may be temporarily unable to see the children for a variety of reasons. If that happens, you should consider using videoconferencing tools like FaceTime or Skype to help the children stay in consistent contact with both parents.
- How your child is coping emotionally. It's important for parents to remember that most kids aren't having a great time now. Many children in the formative stages of their life are missing out on events they were looking forward to all year, like graduation and prom. Touch base with each other and your kid consistently to ensure you're both helping your child maintain their mental and physical well-being.
Remember, things aren't easy for anyone right now. If you and your co-parent are somewhat amicable, now is the time to work together as a unit and figure out ways you can tackle this as a team, instead of pushing each other away. Getting into an unnecessary court battle over custody that could be solved peacefully will only hurt your family dynamic and the relationship you both share with your child in the long run.
At Beatriz Zyne, P.A., we can help you develop a custody arrangement that helps your child thrive and enables you to succeed as a parent.