How Will Parenting Plans be Impacted by The Coronavirus?

Divorced parents in Connecticut and other parts of the country are faced with challenges related to parenting plans in the midst of an unprecedented Covid-19 crisis. Serious health concerns, regional lockdowns and shelter-in-place orders are forcing co-parents to adjust their routines for their minor children and modify their child custody and visitation schedules.

Wherever the co-parents share a relationship of mutual cooperation, it gets easier to manage their parenting plans in the current situation. But where the relationships are estranged and old wounds are still raw, the stressful situation created by the coronavirus pandemic can become even harder for the parents as well as child.

Disruption of Routines

Logistics present one of the key hurdles for many divorced parents at this time. If the co-parents reside in close vicinity, they may be used to exchanging children at the workplace, school or a shopping center. Most of these facilities are temporarily shut down.

Parents who reside afar or in different towns, they may risk violating the local shelter-in-place order if they decide to pick-up or drop-off their child. Where parents are based in separate states, the challenge is even bigger because they would probably not want to let the children fly down to meet the other parent in the present circumstances.

Safety and Medical Concerns

In the backdrop of Covid-19 pandemic, non-custodial parents are likely to have high concerns about the health and safety of their child. They may wonder about how far the custodial parent is committed about maintaining social distancing, following the best hygiene practices, and keeping the child safe.

Worries would increase the former spouse has a new partner, and there is no way to know how that person is keeping herself or himself safe to prevent the child from infection risks. The lack of control for the non-custodial parent becomes a serious issue in these times. It is important for the custodial parent to continually update and reassure the other parent that the child’s best interests are foremost on their mind at all times.

Current Custodial Orders Remain in Force

One of the hurdles for many divorced parents during the pandemic is that the family courts in the state and county are mostly closed and will only deal with unavoidable emergency matters such as child abuse or endangerment. Child custody modifications may not be a priority matter for the courts right now.

Therefore, even where the co-parents are willing to modify their current child custody agreements legally, they may not be able to do so. In this situation, it is best for the parties to consult with an experienced family law attorney in Connecticut.

If the co-parents are making some adjustments to the original custody agreement to cope with the prevailing Covid-19 situation, they should do it in writing under the advice of their lawyer. Physical copies of any correspondence in this regard should be preserved.

Interpretation of divorce laws are equally vague in Connecticut, where attorneys are advising clients to put any temporary tweaks to the original custody agreement in writing, save hard copies of all correspondence about changes to the agreement, and embrace flexibility on both sides.

Increase Virtual Communication

A knowledgeable divorce lawyer would encourage the co-parents to adapt to the new temporary circumstances and embrace flexibility. They should organize virtual meetings using Zoom, FaceTime, or Skype. This will make up for the lost time for the non-custodial parent and also provide the child an opportunity to interact with the parent during this difficult period.

Video communication between co-parents will always be more effective than a phone call, text or email, and they can arrive at mutual acceptable solutions regarding the parenting plans as long as the crisis lasts. An attorney can encourage the divorced parents to adjust their parenting schedules in such a way that the non-custodial parent gets additional time with the child at a later stage when the pandemic risks have cleared up.

If the custodial parent is a healthcare worker and going through rigorous work schedules while also being exposed to higher risks of infection, they might consider allowing the child to be in the care of the other parent until the situation gets better.

In a high conflict divorce, it may be more difficult to make adjustments to parenting plans during the coronavirus crisis. An uncooperative custodial parent might try to use the pandemic as an excuse to prevent the other parent from interacting with the child.

These are potentially complex situations where it can help if you have a seasoned divorce attorney by your side to provide legal guidance and support.

We are Here to Help

The skilled and compassionate legal team at APEX Law Firm, LLC is here to help you during the Covid-19 crisis and beyond for all your family law issues. If you are concerned about issues such as child custody, visitation and support during these times, our seasoned attorneys will provide you the right legal advice. Call us at (860) 900-0900 today to schedule a consultation with our Connecticut divorce lawyers today.

Do Children Have a Say in The Child Custody Conversation in CT?

Common questions after a divorce center on aspects such as which parent will have primary custody of the child, and what the visitation rights of the other parent will consist of. These types of elements can be one of the most challenging facets of separation.

Parents often do not want to place their kids amidst a custody battle. However, they may want to understand whether children have a voice in the custody discussion in Connecticut.

Under what circumstances will a Judge Consider a Child’s Preference?

Connecticut does not have a specific age at which a court must consider a child’s preference. Regardless, a judge will usually consider the opinion of minors aged 13 years or above and disregard the preferences of children who are five years old or younger.

But when a child is aged between five and 13 years, the court determines whether the opinions of the child are relevant to the custody determination on an individual case basis.

The court will hear a child’s preference, and then try to understand whether the child is making a judicious choice about the parent they want to reside with instead of just an impulsive decision based on immediate choices.

For instance, a judge is not likely to see a child’s preference as relevant if it is based on temporary anger against one parent or the child’s child-like proclivities. But if the child’s choices are based on a genuine reason, such as a close relationship with one parent or a better school opportunity, courts are more inclined to consider it.

Upon determining that a child’s preference is relevant to the custody determination, the judge will decide how much weight the preference warrants in comparison to other custody factors. The child’s reasoning for the preference and their maturity level can impact how much importance the court assigns to their opinion.

If a judge determines that the preference is not in the best interests of the child, they can disregard the opinion.

Is it Necessary for Children to Testify about their Custody Preferences in Court?

The legal system in Connecticut is very sensitive to the challenges a child might face when called to testify in court. In general, a child will not need to testify on the witness stand in front of a judge. It is more common for the judge to seek the parent’s permission to speak to the child in chambers, without the presence of the parents.

In case the parents choose not to agree to the interview, the judge may gauge the child’s preference through a psychiatrist, a family-relations counselor, or a psychologist who can talk to the child and provide the court with a report.

A judge may also hear limited remarks of other witnesses who have interacted with the child. However, this testimony will not be given as much importance as the child’s direct statements.

If the parents agree to an in-chambers interview, their lawyers may observe. To ensure that the child is not overly stressed, the judge will typically ask questions (not lawyers). But the attorneys can recommend topics or issues that should be addressed.

In case a lawyer is representing the child, they will be present. For children who do not have attorneys, a domestic relations officer might be present during the interview to represent the interests of the child.

Finally, a court reporter will typically record the interview. In the absence of a court reporter, the judge must make their own records by restating the interview content and allowing others present to add their observations.

Courts are also vigilant for any indication that the child has been coached by one parent to testify in their favor or against the other parent. If a parent attempts to steer the child’s testimony in any direction, it can go against them in the judge’s custodial determination.

An Out-of-Court Child Custody Agreement in Your Child’s Interest

Instead of putting an innocent child in the middle of a legal battle, arriving at an out-of-court arrangement is almost always better. The advantages of a custody arrangement out-of-court are as follows:

Less acrimony

It can be a very emotional, challenging, and contentious process to go to court for anyone, more so a child.

Less Time

If your divorce is on the verge of being finalized, working with the other parent to arrive at an out-of-court custodial arrangement can make the process faster.

More Amicable Parenting Plan

No one wants to be told by a judge how much time they will be allowed to spend with their child. However, if you and your spouse cooperate to decide this, you will likely create a parenting plan that both parties are comfortable with.

Speak to an Experienced Family Law Attorney Today

The knowledgeable and compassionate attorneys at APEX Law Firm, LLC understand how challenging it can be to reach an agreement regarding the custody of a child. Our experienced lawyers can guide you in the development of a parenting plan as well as represent you at negotiation, mediation, and litigation.

During this unprecedented time for our country, the Connecticut courts are closed for all but emergency hearings. This means family legal matters such as divorce and child custody proceedings will move much more slowly until the courts reopen and clear their backlog of cases.

At the APEX Law Firm, LLC, we want you to know that we are here for you during this difficult time. Like everyone else, we are doing most of our work remotely as we follow social distancing guidelines, and of course the wheels of justice are turning more slowly these days. But even in the face of all this, we are still well-equipped to continue providing the strong personalized representation our clients have come to expect.

Message us online or call us today at (860) 900-0900 to set-up a consultation with our Connecticut family law attorneys.