How COVID-19 Can Affect Your Parenting Plan and Custody Agreements
The COVID-19 virus currently gripping New Mexico presents several challenges for co-parenting families. This article will discuss some issues many New Mexican families may face and what you can do to overcome them during this difficult time for our state and our country.
The Convid-19 crisis is increasingly bringing our public life to a standstill. New Mexico public schools are facing the prospect of an at-home school or hybrid school year, public gatherings are being restricted, and many places of business are continuing to implement work from home practices. Even the family law courts in Albuquerque are canceling all in-person hearings for the foreseeable future. Of course in the background of all of this is the ever-present virus that puts our lives and the lives of our children at risk. In such circumstances, many families understandably have questions about how to co-parent effectively in times of disruption without violating court orders or stipulated agreements.
The first major change to our usual routines is school cancellations. While this can present childcare issues, it’s important to remember you must adhere to the general time-sharing agreement laid out in your parenting plan. If it is your week, you are still responsible for child care for that time. On the same token, pick up times and drop off times still need to be observed. That also means that you cannot necessarily dictate how the other parent behaves when it’s their time with the children. Just because you are actively trying to limit your children’s contact with the public doesn’t mean your spouse is. Just because mom or dad takes the kids to the grocery store or allows them to hang out with their friends doesn’t mean they are putting the kid’s health at risk- at least from a legal standpoint. That being said, the best way to maximize the best interests of your children is to communicate effectively and cooperate unselfishly. Just because you can take your kids to public places doesn’t mean you should. Just because you have the kids this week doesn’t mean you can’t let them go with the other parent if they are working from home or off of work. Even though you don’t have to follow your ex’s sanitation and virus protection plans, it still might be in your children’s best interests to do so. The point is communicating with the other parent, coordinating your schedules, adjusting pickup times or places, and working together to adjust to the circumstances is the best way to do the right thing for your child and stay out of court. If you can, reach out to the other parent and discuss how you want to deal with time off from school, public outings and prevention measures. Getting on the same page now can save you a headache down the road.
However, as we all know some times the best intentions and efforts at communication fail to get a positive response because of a difficult, hostel, or irresponsible co-parent. We are currently subject to the Governor's public health orders and restrictions. If your ex refuses to comply with these orders with the children and their actions are putting the children's health at risk, you may be able to file an emergency motion to modify with the courts. While there is a bottleneck in the family court system for some things, emergency motions are being heard and you might be able to temporarily adjust your custody and timesharing agreement. This option should not be taken lightly and should only be used if the kids are in a legitimate health risk.
If your parenting plan addresses a “holiday schedule”, like spring break, you must follow the agreed-upon plan. For example, the extra weeks off of school due to COVID-19 do not count as spring break in the “holiday schedule”. If you are hoping to get more time with the kids because you’re considering this a long spring break you’re wrong. You have to wait until the actual day the children’s spring break begins under the non-modified school calendar to get your timeshare. The time-sharing plan establishes minimum standards for time-sharing. If you are able to communicate effectively with the other parent, respectfully request additional time and present it in terms of the best interest of the children.
If communications fail and you need help, you still have options. Although there are currently no physical family court hearings in the Second Judicial District Court, you can still file motions to enforce or modify the parenting plan. These motions are heard through telephonic appearances. If substantial changes in circumstances occur, like you lost your job, you can also file motions to modify your parenting plan and child support agreements. As always, a good rule of thumb is to follow all existing agreements. If you have specific questions or concerns about your custody or child support agreement, or this is a wake-up call that you need to change things in the future, you can contact Genus Law to set up your free consultation with one of our Albuquerque Family Law lawyers by chatting online with someone now or by calling (505)-317-4455.