Floridians are no strangers to natural disasters. Destructive hurricanes ravage our state on an almost annual basis. But one thing most of us have never experienced or prepared for is a public health emergency like what is happening with the coronavirus pandemic. This outbreak has resulted in an ongoing situation in which nonessential businesses are shut down, kids are at home going to school online, and parents are either laid off, working from home, or working overtime on the front lines.
Because everyone’s schedule has been disrupted in some way by the COVID-19 outbreak, it may not be practical or even realistic to stick to a parenting plan that did not account for an unprecedented event like this. For divorced or separated parents, it can be a major challenge to maintain proper social distancing guidelines and stay healthy when kids are regularly going back and forth between parents.
This situation brings up several critical issues that may need to be addressed:
- Work Schedules: As mentioned previously, everyone has had their work schedule disrupted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot more people are working from home, and many will be out of work for some time while we ride out the storm. But there are also others who are being asked to work a lot of overtime. These include healthcare workers, those who work in grocery stores, and truck drivers. Every situation is unique, and the work schedules of the parents will be one of the major considerations in developing a temporary parenting plan to get them through the coronavirus outbreak.
- Travel Restrictions: With Florida and many other states being under a “stay-at-home” order, there have been restrictions placed on nonessential travel. Closely related to this issue is the concern that parents who do not live in the same area travel a significant distance with their children and potentially pass the virus from one area to another.
- Kids and Parents with Underlying Health Conditions: As is the case with other viruses, the coronavirus is most deadly when contracted by individuals who have various health conditions such as high blood pressure/hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. If there are children who have any of these or other high-risk conditions, then it is probably best to keep them at home and not have them going back and forth between parents while this is going on. If one of the parents is at a risk of serious or fatal illness from COVID-19, then they may need to stay separated from the children for a while. There is also the issue of children coming in contact with elderly individuals, which brings us to our next point…
- Visits with Grandparents: Many children have strong relationships with their grandparents, and sometimes a visit with a parent regularly includes some time spent with grandma and grandpa. While bonding with grandparents is important and highly encouraged during ordinary times, these are not ordinary times. Many of the elderly have conditions that put them at a high risk of severe illness from the coronavirus, so it will probably be best to put a hold on these visits for a while.
- Quarantine Requirements: What if one of the parents or children test positive for COVID-19? In such cases, those who have tested positive will need to be treated, and anyone who has been exposed to someone who has tested positive will probably be required to self-quarantine for 14 days. Even if this situation has not yet happened in your family, this eventuality should be discussed so everyone knows how it will be handled.
During a Public Health Crisis, Cooperation is Critical
During a time like this, it is important for parents to be patient and flexible. Trying to hold other parties to a parenting plan that never accounted for a situation like this will only cause unnecessary stress for everyone involved.
Understand that this too shall pass – it is not a permanent situation, and when all of this is over, we can all hopefully go back to our normal routines. In the meantime, parents need to try to cooperate with each other to come up with a peaceable and workable arrangement to get through this crisis.
It might be that this situation may force parents to postpone in-person visitations with the children for the time being. But this does not mean you cannot maintain some form of contact with your kids. Some alternatives that might work for your family include:
- Virtual Visits: You could schedule daily phone calls with your kids, or video chats using a platform like Facetime, Skype, or Zoom.
- Socially Distanced Visits: If parents live close by, one parent could come by to say hello and speak to the child while maintaining a safe distance based on doctor’s orders or state guidelines.
- Creative Communication: You and your children could send each other postcards, letters, or personalized greeting cards that could be saved to help remember some of the ways you stayed connected during this unprecedented event.
The bottom line is there are many ways that we can overcome the challenges presented by the COVID-19 situation and develop a temporary parenting plan to help get families through it. It would also be a good idea to get the temporary agreement put in writing with language that states when the agreement will end, and the original parenting plan will be re-implemented.
What if Parents are Not on the Same Page about COVID-19?
One of the most difficult situations separated or divorced parents may encounter is when the other parent does not view the coronavirus pandemic the same way you do. For example, you may be taking Florida’s “stay-at-home” directive seriously, while your ex might not believe that COVID-19 is as bad as people are saying. This will obviously cause some major conflicts in the way the parenting plan is handled.
In this type of situation, it is important to get in touch with an experienced family law attorney right away to discuss your legal options. The Florida courts are still open for emergency proceedings, and you may need to petition the court for an emergency temporary custody order if the other parent is putting your child at risk or is otherwise not acting in your child’s best interests.
Whibbs, Stone, & Barnett is Here to Help
If you are in the Pensacola area and you need help developing a temporary written parenting plan for the COVID-19 crisis, or you need to take emergency legal action for the safety of your children, contact Whibbs, Stone, & Barnett for assistance. Call our office today at 1-888-219-4561 or message us online to schedule a free consultation with one of our attorneys.