Child-Custody Exchanges during the Coronavirus Pandemic, Issues Created by Self Isolation at Home, and the Quest to Get Married: Another COVID-19 Reading Roundup

April 22, 2020 K.O. Herston 1 Comments

Your fearless blawger

Tennessee’s schools are closed for the remainder of the academic year. Courts are still closed to in-person hearings, subject to a few exceptions. Many businesses are closed. Those businesses that are open are struggling as commerce has ground to a halt.

Yet life goes on.

Families are adjusting in ways good and bad.

Below is a sampling of some articles I think will interest readers of this blog.

How does the statewide school closure affect parenting schedules based on the school calendar? The Administrative Office of the Courts, overseen by the Tennessee Supreme Court, offers some guidance:

In general, attorneys and parents are encouraged to follow the school-year calendar for custody on school and non-school days even if schools are closed.

The exchange of children is an exemption to the state’s Stay-At-Home order issued by Gov. Lee. Parents should continue to exchange children on schedule unless other arrangements are agreed upon or approved by a court of competent jurisdiction.

Should parents follow court orders and exchange children during this national emergency? The Knoxville Bar Association examines this question:

A parent who violates an existing exchange order may claim immediate risk of harm to the child as a defense, but the general risk of community infection may not be enough to avoid being held in contempt.

It’s difficult to predict how courts will respond to requests for enforcement of parenting plans under these circumstances. If exchanging a child between parents creates an immediate risk of infection (i.e., someone in your home or the other parent’s home has been diagnosed positive for COVID-19 or has been knowingly exposed to it and is in quarantine), it’s unlikely any court would penalize a violation. If the risk from exchanging a child between households is not greater than the general community risk of infection, the best advice is follow the plan unless agreed otherwise.

This issue is present across the country. The New York Times writes:

That question is arising across the country as a growing number of parents have begun to withhold access to their children from former spouses or partners over fears of infection, according to families, lawyers, and judges. For health care or other essential workers, the battles are infused with heightened controversy. Some say they shouldn’t be punished for doing crucial services; their counterparts argue that the jobs pose too great a risk to other family members.

“If there’s an imminent threat to the kid’s well-being, you must take action, whether that’s something like drug abuse or a virus,” Mr. Surdukowski said. “Watching the news, looking at the cases of doctors being sick, you cannot tell me that they are not at a higher risk.” Mr. Surdukowski, who has an underlying condition, had told the judge that he was also concerned about his own health.

Amid the pandemic, the landscape of family law, which varies across the country, has become more uneven, with few guidelines to address the current safety concerns. Families of medical workers aren’t the only affected. Other parents are arguing over who comes and goes from each home, whether children should be on the playground and if travel to more remote areas should be permitted.

CNN addresses the same question:

Divorced parents need to discuss how the virus impacts their schedule.

Across the country, divorced parents are grappling with similar situations and equally difficult decisions. Shelter-in-place orders, regional lockdowns and overarching health concerns have forced parents to modify their usual custody schedules and rewrite routines.

[W]here the relationship is amicable, the changes have gone relatively smoothly. In other cases where parents are estranged, improvisation has necessitated billable hours with divorce attorneys and unearthed old wounds, making an already stressful time even harder.

This anxiety is only exacerbated by a family court system that basically has shut down like all other nonessential parts of society.

What explains the precipitous drop in reports of child abuse and neglect and domestic violence? Nashville Public Radio investigates Tennessee’s sharp decrease in reports of abuse and why that places children at risk:

Since the coronavirus closed Tennessee schools and many daycares, Tennessee’s child abuse hotline has seen a significant decrease in calls. For Children’s Services leadership, that’s troubling.

Between March 1 and April 6, calls fell more than 25% compared to the same time last year. Jennifer Nichols, commissioner of the Department of Children’s Services, said the drop means many child abuse cases are likely going unreported.

“Our teachers and childcare workers are probably at the top of the list for who we get referrals from,” Nichols said, “and now all of a sudden their eyes aren’t on those children.”

The New York Times explains why local authorities are concerned about the drop in domestic violence reports:

Statistics actually suggest domestic violence is down in the city since the shutdown, even as it has risen statewide and around the world. Fewer victims of domestic abuse have been calling the police or the city’s hotline in recent weeks.

But the drop in reports is far from reassuring, officials said, and law enforcement officials and social workers say there are some signs strife is quietly escalating behind closed doors. Calls to some organizations that provide shelter to battered women, for instance, have increased sharply.

“Those stats are very scary,” said Melinda Katz, the district attorney in Queens, where domestic violence arrests have fallen nearly 40 percent. “The problem we think people are having is how to notify us.”

The strict measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus in the city also have raised hurdles — and increased risks — for people seeking help, officials and social workers say. With schools and nonessential businesses shut, victims have lost opportunities to find privacy away from their abusers and seek help, such as going to work or walking children to school.

School closures and stay-at-home orders produce increased stressors for parents and children. The Washington Post has suggestions for helping children cope:

Amid the changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic, technology keeps us connected, but without the safety of the school structure, countless children will suffer from anxiety, depression, and loneliness. Children worldwide are wrapped up in a grief they can’t begin to understand caused by a collective trauma with no clear end in sight.

While some kids have a support system or therapist to help them, most do not. Mental health workers are trying to assist people of all ages with the hope that we can mitigate some of the long-term effects of extended lockdowns and school closures, but we need all hands on deck to protect our kids’ mental health.

Stay-at-home orders create more opportunities for parent-child conflict. The New York Times suggests a particular approach when “you and your kids can’t stand each other”:

Some conflict is normal in a family. When we’re quarantined together around the clock for days on end, with everyone affected by a range of stresses, it’s practically inevitable. And the way we talk to one another about our conflicts can often make them worse.

When you have reached the moment when things run off the rails, and you’re not sure how to get back on track, it’s time for a family meeting. Don’t wait until you’re so angry that you blow up. If you feel like you need to have a meeting, that’s a sign that you should have one. But sometimes the same dynamics that cause conflict can actually derail the meeting itself. You need a strategy.

The Washington Post suggests parents try “free-range” parenting:

“How do you not helicopter parent in this environment? Ideas????”

This email from a friend said it all. With so many schools closed, playgrounds off-limits and parents working at home — or wishing they were working — we really are in four-question-mark territory these days. We’re living through a global pandemic. What is a parent to do?

Here’s a thought: Give up!!!!

Yes, even smushed together with the kids 24/7, there is simply no way a parent can be hovering, helping or doing that “High five, little buddy!” thing all day long. And the good news is: Children don’t need it.

How are people getting married when everything is shut down? The New York Times recounts the lengths to which couples have gone to get married:

One couple’s self-uniting marriage in Pittsburgh, another’s virtual wedding in Harlem, and yet another’s willingness to spend time at a county jail in Raleigh, N.C. These were just some of the ways determined couples around the country found to be legally married, despite the fact that the coronavirus had forced them to cancel, postpone and reschedule much larger and elegant affairs.

In the face of impending state shutdowns and social-distancing requirements, some couples plowed ahead. Like the couple who were married in a Roman Catholic church in Madison, Wis., and whose first dance took place in the parking lot outside of the church, the music blaring from a car radio, as their wedding guests all cheered from their own cars.

We’ll get through this. Meanwhile, life goes on.

Stay safe, y’all.


Child-Custody Exchanges during the Coronavirus Pandemic, Issues Created by Self Isolation at Home, and the Quest to Get Married: Another COVID-19 Reading Roundup was last modified: April 21st, 2020 by K.O. Herston

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