March 21, 2020
By David S. Carton and Lynne Strober
The spread of COVID-19 has created a stressful dynamic for many divorced co-parents in New Jersey, as well as couples who are in the process of getting divorced. During this difficult time, you may be dealing with crucial issues of custody, parenting time, communication, and the enforcement and payment of support obligations. At the same time, the current situation may make it difficult for you to communicate effectively with your partner and resolve essential issues regarding the care of your children. Another problem raised by COVID-19 is the near standstill of family law matters in New Jersey courts, many of which are now only available in a dire emergency. Given the situation, our family law department put together this list of five best practices:
- Create a Household Plan of Action: If your parenting time involves overnight transitions between homes, try to work with your co-parent to create a household plan of action that can be consistently applied in each home. When differences of opinion arise, relying on governmental information is often helpful. For instance, The Center for Disease Control’s website provides steps for creating a household plan of action for individuals and families.
- Communicate Frequently: During times like this, if co-parents can communicate frequently and interact with their children’s health and safety in mind, issues should be minimized. Given travel restrictions, self-quarantining and other limitations, it makes sense to communicate on a consistent basis through email, text, or a free co-parenting app such as AppClose, Amicable, or Cozi. In addition to benefiting from easier collaboration, these apps will also help you maintain proof of communication.
- Memorialize your verbal agreements: When people’s normal daily routines are disrupted, verbal misunderstandings can frequently arise. If you make verbal agreements during this time, make sure to memorialize them in writing immediately afterwards. It’s also a good practice to make a written record of your children’s personal hygiene, activity and travel policies, which will be upheld in each home. In addition, make sure to report any symptoms in your household to each other.
- Dealing with child support when a parent is out of work: If one party is paying child support through wage garnishment, a mandatory shutdown at work may impact child support payments. In recognition of the situation, The New Jersey Child Support Program has expanded its weekday hotline hours from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. (1-877-NJKIDS1). On their website, users can also access their case information, court information, and can make secure payments. If you have always made your child support payments in person, an alternate payment method can also be arranged through your bank or, through a free app such as Cash App, Venmo, or PayPal, which offer free debit card transactions. Maintaining a clear record of payments will also help demonstrate that you are not in arrears.
- Be objective when it comes to reduced parenting time: Prolonged school closures, work from home requirements, travel restrictions and other responsibilities in your life may wind up affecting your parenting time with your children. In these situations, co-parents should navigate any loss of overnight parenting time reasonably, and with an objective view of the safety of their children.
Finally, it’s important to keep in mind that parents do not have to forego their rights at this time, and all parties must adhere to the most current government directives and court orders. With all of this in mind, it still might be hard to deal with your co-parent directly, and even harder to agree on issues regarding your children. You may also have an urgent financial issue to address, such as a change in alimony or child support due to a loss of employment. With the courts unavailable for many matters, please feel free to reach out to us for guidance.