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Co-Parenting During Lockdown in Virginia

April 17, 2020

Faced with a worldwide pandemic, governors across the country have issued, for the first time in my lifetime, universal stay-at-home orders virtually shutting down our way of life.  While it is an extremely difficult transition for in-tact families, persons who must co-parent with another parent during this current crisis are experiencing extra-ordinary difficulties. 

Under the best of conditions, it is sometimes difficult to work with the child’s other parent given the strains in the relationship and the actions of that parent.   During this pandemic it is extremely important to put your children’s thoughts and feelings first.  Children are looking to both their parents for reassurance and love.  When dealing with custody and parenting issues during the lockdown, it is extremely important that you keep the best interest of your children as your primary focus.  Although we have very little flexibility in our daily lives as we are sitting at home practicing social distancing, it is essential that you be flexible with the other parent and try to empathize with their situation as well.  Everyone who is experiencing COVID-19 is going through extreme changes in their daily life.  Therefore, if changes need to be made to the schedule, it is in everyone’s best interest that you attempt to work out a reasonable compromise with the other parent.  Additionally, it is imperative that both parents are on the same page as to practicing appropriate social distancing and keeping children isolated while the national emergency is in effect.

Working this out can be extremely difficult, especially in high conflict and contentious co-parenting relationships.  Remember, first and foremost, follow all court orders.  Just because Governor Northam has issued a state of emergency and issued an order to “stay-at-home”, that does not mean that any one is excused from current custody and visitation orders.  Governor Northam’s proclamation specifically names travel for the following of custody and visitation orders as essential travel which may, and should be, accomplished.  Therefore, the parents should to continue to follow the parenting schedule that was followed prior to the pandemic.

What do you do if a co-parent refuses to follow the parenting schedule?  Be fully prepared to enforce the court order.  Just because the courts are closed for all non-emergency proceedings, you can still file an appropriate show cause or other motion before the court to enforce the court order.  Some courts are still hearing emergency custody and visitation orders.  There is no need to wait until the courts re-open to attempt to resolve conflicts which may arise.  Many mediators are working remotely, utilizing technology and partnering with law firms, to continue to resolve conflicts between parents.  Therefore, you can assert your rights during the pandemic to enforce them. 

If you are experiencing difficulties with your child’s other parent, it is imperative that you get legal advice as soon as possible.  This COVID-19 lockdown situation will not last forever, and it is best to be prepared when it does end to ensure that your rights have been protected.

Richard Garriott is a Pender & Coward shareholder focusing his practice on family law.