Child custody can be complicated at the best of times. During the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, all facts of life have become significantly more complex. Travel restrictions, shut-in orders, and fears of spreading infection have the potential to make shared custody arrangements particularly troublesome. If you are a father in a shared custody or visitation arrangement, the novel coronavirus does not give your co-parent the right to unilaterally change the terms of your arrangement. Read on for a discussion of fathers’ rights during the COVID-19 crisis, and reach out to a seasoned Englewood child custody and parental rights attorney for help with a New Jersey family law matter.
Continued Right to Custody and Visitation
The novel coronavirus has introduced a lot of complications to custody arrangements. Travel to and from one parent’s house to the other may be difficult, if not impossible. If you have the right to shared custody or visitation, your spouse has the obligation to do their best to keep that arrangement going.
We strongly advise you to discuss the matter with your co-parent, if possible, to determine a suitable arrangement. If transferring the kids is essentially impossible given travel restrictions, try to arrange regular video calls and phone calls with your child (and ensure that your co-parent facilitates them) in order to keep regular contact. If travel is merely difficult, discuss alterations to the custody arrangement. Instead of one parent keeping custody during the week and another on the weekends, it may be better for each parent to keep custody for two weeks or a month at a time, in order to cut down on the number of trips each parent and the children must take.
Importantly, your co-parent does not have the right to make a unilateral decision about how custody and visitation will work during the pandemic. If your co-parent is concerned that you have been exposed to or have contracted the coronavirus, they must come to an agreement with you on the matter, or they must get an order from the court allowing them to modify the custody or visitation arrangement. Their fears, standing alone, do not give them the right to keep you from seeing your kids. If their concerns are valid, certainly you should be flexible to keep your children safe and healthy, but if your co-parent is merely using the pandemic as an excuse to limit your parenting time, you do not have to passively accept their decision.
Adjustment to Child Support and Alimony
The pandemic has done a number on the U.S. economy. Business limitations and closures have caused millions of Americans to take a hit to their income, if not lose their jobs outright. If you are paying or receiving child support or alimony, the current economic situation provides a clear “changed circumstance” that may justify a modification to your obligation. If you owe child support that you can no longer afford, you can ask your co-parent for a temporary or permanent reduction or petition the court for a modification. If you receive child support and have taken a hit to your income while your co-parent has not, then you might be able to seek an increase in your payments, either temporary or permanent.
That being said, without a court order or the permission of a co-parent, one parent cannot unilaterally decide to reduce their support payment. If your co-parent owes you child support, and they can afford to pay, they must continue to do so until they get a court order (or your permission) declaring otherwise.
Help With Divorce-Related Issues from Dedicated New Jersey Family Law Attorneys
If you’re considering divorce in New Jersey or dealing with child support, child custody, property division, or other family law issues, contact the Englewood family law attorneys Herbert & Weiss at (201) 500-2151.