The holidays this year during COVID-19 are going to look a lot differently for everyone. This is further complicated for split families and working out holiday visitation. If a positive COVID-19 test or exposure creeps its ugly head into the mix – or as concerns of a repeat of March 2020 continue to increase with new State restrictions/travel bans being released almost daily across the U.S. – you may find yourself worrying as to how visitation with your child is going to look this year. This already extremely difficult situation can be further complicated in circumstances where co-parents have blended families and other children who may attend different schools and live in two different states with different guidelines and restrictions.
Thinking outside the box, as we have all been forced to do in almost every arena of our lives since the onset of the pandemic, might also be required as it pertains to holiday traditions and even how (or if) your child will be able to spend time with both parents during this holiday season. For the “how” group, you could host a socially-distanced, small gathering with only immediate family members who have tested negative for COVID-19 and invite your co-parent to join in on the celebration. Children usually want to spend the holidays with both of their parents, and these options will give them the opportunity to do just that.
The “if” group is naturally a much more difficult situation. In some circumstances, unfortunately, it may just not be advisable continuing with the holiday visitation/parenting time schedule under your current Custody Agreement or Decree. Various factors need to be taken into consideration on a case-by-case basis, such as the risk in spread of infection, the impact a positive COVID-19 would have on all parties, and if holiday visitation or travel would result in a 14-day quarantine.
This is going to be a long winter for our country, businesses, schools, and families — no doubt. It will take a child-focused, selfless perspective by countless co-parents this holiday season in how to best approach visitation and traditions with families and children. There are other aspects to consider besides the obvious healthy and safety component as well, including the ability to continue to provide financially for your children and keeping current with child/spousal support orders, and maintaining the children’s routines and school schedules as much as possible during what is also an incredibly unsettling time for them too.
Although telecommunications is never equal to being physically present, if you are placed in the position of being away from your child this holiday season, there are options, such a FaceTime and Zoom, that can help feel like you and your child are together. Blessed with having teenagers? Well, unless you live under a rock, this is already how they do all of their communicating. On that same token, what’s a better way to start the New Year advancing your social media skills and presence, than using it as a way to better connect to your teenagers? As an added bonus, there’s nothing like the “gift” of sending your teenager your newest Tik-Tok video for all of their friends to share, or when they receive notification alert you are following them on SnapChat. These are just a few humiliating (and hilarious) examples of the priceless memories we can pass down to our kids during this beautiful digital age!
Putting traditionalist parenting styles and screen time limitations aside this holiday season (or, perhaps a lame attempt at injecting humor into an otherwise pretty grim topic for a blog post) may be a necessary adjustment (or quantum leap attempt depending on the parent) in learning alternative ways of connecting and being “present” with our children during a pandemic-holiday. The first step is looking at your Custody Agreement and reviewing if there is any language for flexibility in visitation or make-up time, as it’s unlikely it has a clause addressing what to do during a pandemic or global health crisis.
If such language is lacking, instead of taking the high-conflict litigation route (nothing says “Merry Christmas” like a Motion for Contempt, right? Wrong!), it is recommended you next try discussing with your co-parent what risks and concerns holiday visitation during COVID-19 could impose upon your child and circumstances, and see if the two of you can flush out any adjustments on visitations, as suggested above. Of course, if a temporary agreement is reached, it is always best to have it confirmed in writing (or email).
And, as every responsible law firm blog post will provide in its closing, if your attempts at reaching a resolution with your co-parent prove unsuccessful, it is strongly advised you contact an attorney. Any of our Graydon Family Law attorneys would be happy to guide you through the different legal actions available and can recommend what you should do as it pertains to your particular case. We can also explain to you how the Court for your case is conducting different types of hearings during Covid-19, which is (currently) different for each Judge and has been modified numerous times over the past few months.
As we close a year for the books, so must this blog. In doing so, we leave you with this: COVID-19 might make “Tis the Season not-so-jolly” for many co-parents this year; however, that should never be an excuse to compromise the health, safety and doing what is, ultimately, in the best interests of your child as we ALL get through this difficult time. In a blink, the holidays will be over, 2021 will be here, and hopefully COVID-19 will soon be just another a lesson taught in our children’s children history books (or, more likely, on the latest electronic gadget, for which we will have absolute zero interest in learning to operate by the time we’re grandparents of teenagers…that will be on our then adult kids to master. Good luck with that!)
From our families to yours, have a safe, socially-distanced and happy holiday season,
The Graydon Family Law Team