Life under the COVID-19 stay-at-home orders are posing a variety of challenges for families, including, but definitely not limited to navigating online learning with children while schools are closed, balancing working from home with caring for children as daycares are shut down, and for some, a loss or reduction in pay as furloughs and layoffs take effect. This is hard enough, but for parents who are divorced or separated, a stay-at-home order can throw a wrench in a carefully mapped out child custody arrangement. To ensure compliance with a legal arrangement, our divorce attorneys in Greenville, NC are providing a closer look at what the stay-at-home order means for families as well as tips for navigating this difficult time in a way that is fair, safe, and places the children’s best interests as the highest priority.
How COVID-19 Is Affecting North Carolina Courts
If you and your spouse are in the midst of divorce proceedings or are currently separated and hoping to begin the divorce process soon, it’s important to note that most court proceedings are postponed as ordered by Chief Justice Cheri Beasley. In order to comply with North Carolina Governor, Roy Cooper’s executive order outlining the stay-at-home order, she also issued seven emergency directives, including:
- All court proceedings must be postponed to June 1, 2020, or after, with the exception of issues related to due process and emergency relief, such as a domestic violence protection order or emergency custody.
- Clerks must post notices at courthouses, courtrooms, and other facilities, discouraging entry to those infected with COVID-19.
- Any court proceedings that can be conducted by remote audio and video transmissions can be held.
- Attorneys and those without business before the court should avoid court facilities.
- Sworn statements under penalty of perjury may take the place of notarization for court filings and oaths.
- Court documents can be sent electronically (via email).
- The deadlines for payment of fines and fees has been extended by 90 days.
How does this affect couples who are in the process of a separation or divorce? If there is an emergency custody issue or concerns, the first step is to reach out to your divorce attorney who will most likely be able to consult with you about your case via video conference or phone call.
Does the Stay-At-Home Order Supersede Custody Arrangements?
One of the most important things to note is that the stay-at-home order issued by Governor Cooper allows essential travel, and this does include allowing parents to travel to exchange custody or drop off their children with the other parent. While we understand that parents may be contemplating wanting to keep their children in one place in order to prevent exposure, it’s also important to remain in compliance with court orders and custody agreements as it was put in place to create a fair, safe system for all parties involved, especially the children.
Tips for Sharing Custody During Stay-At-Home Orders
Follow Health and Safety Guidelines
It’s important for both parents to comply with all the guidelines laid out by the CDC, along with state and local guidelines. This includes wearing a cloth mask when outdoors, washing hands thoroughly, sanitizing surfaces like doorknobs and light switches that are touched often, and maintaining social distancing. Both parents should also prevent exposure by limiting going out to only essential travel and canceling vacation, extended family plans, playdates, and social get-togethers.
Create a Healthy Setting For Your Children
Your children will be looking to their parents for guidance during this challenging time. You and your ex-spouse will want to avoid making careless comments or exposing them to news and media coverage that younger children may not understand. Speak with them truthfully, answer their questions, and reassure them that the current situation is only temporary.
Agree to Updates in Arrangements if Necessary
With so many changes occurring, it’s more than likely that one or both parents will either be working more (such as if one party is an essential worker) or less. Work together to update current arrangements temporarily if necessary to align with schedule changes or for safety purposes.
This is especially true if one spouse is at a higher risk of exposure, such as if they work in a hospital. If you both agree that it’s better to limit travel, set up times for FaceTime or video calls, and set an agreement for make-up times for visitation. During this time, most family law judges will expect reasonable accommodations and flexibility.
Create a Plan if Either Parent is Exposed
It’s important to be honest with one another about whether or not either of you were exposed to COVID-19, and work to agree with what steps you will both take to protect your kids in the event that either of you are exposed or get sick. Again, this could include creating schedules for video phone calls, adding visitation time to when the “all clear” has passed, and other methods of ensuring that the children get fair time with their parents.
Act with Understanding and Generosity
This is an unprecedented event for North Carolina and the nation. Many people are experiencing a loss of wages and this will affect parents who pay child support or receive it. For parents who pay child support but lost wages, it’s still important to provide what is possible and to let the other parent know as soon as possible how the amount may be affected. For the parent receiving payments, we do recommend trying to accommodate these changes as best you can.
Contact Irons & Irons P.A. for Family Law Legal Matters
We are open for business during stay-at-home orders and are available for consultation through phone and video conferencing. If you are seeking legal assistance for a divorce, separation, or custody arrangement and would like to consult with a family law firm in Greenville, NC, please reach out to us today at (252) 215-3000 or fill out our easy-to-use contact form below to schedule a virtual consultation.