Navigating through a divorce and the custody and co-parenting issues during COVID-19 can add another layer of stress and anxiety for the family. As parents, we all want to model the best version of ourselves to our children, but how do we do that? Sacramento County Superior Court and many of the other surrounding counties have adopted Best Practice Recommendations for custody cases during COVID-19. The detail of that is as follows:
Unless the parties agree otherwise;
- Definition of Spring Break, Summer Break/Vacation or Holidays: While the schools are closed, parenting time shall continue as if the children are still attending school in accordance with the school calendar of the relevant district. ‘Spring break’, ‘summer break/vacation’ or other designated holidays, means the regularly calendared breaks/vacations or holidays in the school district where the children are attending school (or would attend school if they were school aged). The closure of the school for public health purposes will not be considered an extension of any break/vacation/holiday period or weekend.
- Denial of Parenting Time: COVID-19 is not a reason to deny parenting time. Unless otherwise ordered by the court, parents are considered fit to care for their children and make decisions regarding the day-to-day aspects of parenting while the children are in their care. This day-to-day care includes following the CDC guidelines and County Public Health directives regarding social distancing and sanitation-related measures (such as frequent handwashing).
- Parenting Time in Public Places: Governor Newsom has forbidden all nonessential gatherings, regardless of size. If the parenting plan states that parenting time will occur in a public place, parenting time should continue at locations that are permitted under the health and safety guidelines for the state, such as a large park or nature hike. Public places where people routinely touch common contact surfaces (such as parks and play equipment) should be avoided. However, activities where parents and children can maintain social distancing and avoid such surfaces are encouraged. If that is not possible, then the parenting time should be conducted virtually via videoconferencing or by telephone.
- Supervised Parenting Time: If parenting time is ordered to be supervised, and the supervisor is unavailable due to COVID-19-related issues or government orders, the parties should work collaboratively to ensure parenting time continues to occur in a manner that promotes their children’s safety and wellbeing, such as finding an alternative supervisor. If that is not possible, then the parenting time should be conducted virtually via videoconferencing or by telephone.
- Governor’s Executive Orders Regarding Travel: The Governor has issued executive orders that restrict travel except for essential activities, which generally include caring for minors, dependents and/or family members. Therefore, unless otherwise directed by the Governor or other executive order, the parties should continue to follow the parenting plan as written while such orders are in effect.
- Exchanges: During the exchange of the children, all parties should follow the CDC guidelines for limiting the spread of the virus, which may mean choosing an alternate location for the exchanges that has less people congregating and less touching of public items (changing from the restaurant to the grocery store parking lot for example).
- Transparency: Unless the parties are restrained from communicating, parents are encouraged to communicate about precautions they are taking to slow the spread of COVID-19. A parent is not permitted to deny parenting time based upon the other parent’s unwillingness to discuss their precautionary measures taken, or belief that the other parent’s precautions are insufficient.
- Makeup Parenting Time: If parenting time is missed due to COVID-19-related issues or government orders, parents are encouraged to work collaboratively to schedule makeup parenting time that promotes their children’s safety and wellbeing. If there is no agreement, upon formal request, and if appropriate, makeup parenting time may be ordered, when restrictions are lifted.
These recommendations may not answer all of the questions, but can serve as a framework for co-parenting your children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The courts have been open for ZOOM hearings if needed to resolve disputes. However, cases are backlogged and hearings are delayed sometimes for months. Child custody counselors handling custody mediation are also being held by ZOOM but are limited and are also delayed by backlog. A more cost effective and expedited resolution to resolve custody disputes would be to meet with a professional mediator or collaborative law attorney.
You can learn more about mediation and collaborative practice or find a professional near you by checking out the Sacramento Collaborative Divorce website at www.divorceoption.com.