Many of us at Hofheimer Family Law Firm are moms with young and school-aged children. We’re all scrambling to find out how to work and provide childcare when we have been told to avoid groups of 10 or more and schools are closed. Adding to the confusion is that some daycare centers remain open, but others have closed. My neighbor reported that her center was open but each child’s temperature was taken when arriving and leaving. For those who share physical custody of their children with the other parent, this issue can be especially tricky. Fortunately yesterday, some form of guidance arrived from the Governor for daycare centers:
• They can remain open, but they are asked to reduce class size
• Food is to be eaten in the classroom.
• Activities should be planned so that children remain six feet apart.
Most importantly, they stressed that parents NOT send their children to daycare unless the parents absolutely had to work – i.e., healthcare workers and first responders.
If you share physical custody with your child’s father, then you generally need to let him care for your kid on his parenting days. He can make day to day decisions, including childcare, as can you when the child is in your care. Generally, also, you need to follow your court orders and not change the normal schedule.
That said, this is really an unprecedented situation, and both parents ideally should agree on how to handle it. If you have any sort of relationship with the father, it is a good idea to reach out FIRST to him to see if you can agree on childcare. If you can’t agree, then let him know what you plan to do with the child on your parenting time. Our advice is read up on the guidelines, rules, and recommendations. If there is a clear rule or ban, follow it. But for everything else, use your best judgment.
If he withholds the child from you in violation of a court order on the basis that you don’t have adequate childcare due to the coronavirus, then it would be a good idea to contact an attorney. The courts are currently closed except for emergency hearings. Withholding a child in violation of a court order could qualify as an emergency, and it’s important to speak to an attorney fast to see how strong your case is. In contrast, you also need to be very careful about contemplating holding your child back from visitation with his father because of the coronavirus. One exception that I can think of justifying keeping a child from a parenting exchange is if the child is actually showing symptoms of the coronavirus. I would speak to the child’s healthcare provider and get written documentation from the provider about what is medically required.
It’s hard to say how a judge would look at your situation, but a court order is a powerful thing. And we need to mindful of following it even as the coronavirus upends our world.