COVID-19 & Family Law in Kansas CityKayte Rhodes
During this unusual period where we are all dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and you and your children have had your normal school schedule and other routines disrupted, we at MannTuckerMuir thought the following general suggestions and reminders would be helpful:
1. BE HEALTHY
Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.
2. BE MINDFUL
Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave the news on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.
3. BE COMPLIANT with court orders and custody agreements.
As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. Most custody arrangements remain in effect even if schools are closed, so custody agreements should continue to be followed as though school were still in session. Hopefully, you and the other parent can reach any needed accommodations, as noted further below.
Our local judges are likely to continue to enforce the current parenting time orders and schedules as they have not been modified. With the court closures for all but a very few emergency hearings due to the ongoing virus emergency, it is highly unlikely that you could get before the court to change anything or to enforce anything. The court is unlikely to view your case as a true emergency, especially if it involves the parents being unable to agree on a new arrangement or schedule. Instead, they will likely view the current orders as being sufficient for this situation. Even with the new Stay At Home requirements issued by the local governments in the KC area, the courts will likely take the view that if you are still able to have a pizza delivered to your house, then you can continue to exchange your child as required by any orders in your case while practicing good social distancing and hand washing, etc., as recommended by the CDC and state health agencies. Unless a child has been tested (and very few have been) and has been confirmed as having the COVID-19 virus, you should continue to follow the court’s orders and the regular schedule. If a child is truly ill and cannot be transferred to the other parent, then you should make arrangements for daily video parenting time with the other parent. Be prepared to document the illness with a doctor’s diagnosis if the other parent disagrees. Most doctors have moved to video appointments to screen children for illnesses, so get an email diagnosis sent to you by the doctor. Because the schools have been canceled, but are continuing classes virtually, unless the parents reach some other agreement (by text or email so you have documentation of that agreement), you should continue to follow the regular school week schedules. Should you have any specific concerns or a unique situation, please call or email us.
4. BE CREATIVE
At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums, and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.
5. BE TRANSPARENT
Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly, both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus. If there are any current restraining orders or other unique conditions in your custody arrangement, you should seek the advice of counsel.
6. BE GENEROUS
Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are unreasonably inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.
7. BE UNDERSTANDING
There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.
Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe. If we at MannTuckerMuir can be of assistance or answer any questions, please contact one of us.