On Friday, December 11, 2020, Chief Justice Cheri Beasley announced that in North Carolina non-essential, in-person court proceedings would be postponed for 30 days, beginning Monday, December 14, 2020. Unfortunately, this has become the norm as the state continues to battle the widespread effects of the coronavirus pandemic. With in-person court proceedings grinding to a halt, many divorced and separated parents are finding themselves in uncharted territory in terms of co-parenting. As a result, many parents have taken matters into their own hands and are beginning to make day-by-day decisions regarding what is best for their children in these situations.
This pandemic has presented many challenges that even the most far-sighted custody order could not have predicted. Meredith Johnson Harbach is a professor of family law at the University of Richmond School of Law in Virginia. She feels that the lack of clear legal guidance during the pandemic opened the door for some parents to exercise what the law refers to as ‘self-help’ – essentially taking matters into their own hands. As with all other decisions involving minor children, parents should strive to make decisions in the child’s best interest, but that can be hard to do during times like these.
The key is flexibility. Many parents are experiencing stressful situations, and tensions are running high. Typically, the activities a parent engages in on their noncustodial days are at their discretion. However, because this virus spreads through human contact, parents should be much more cautious about their activities on noncustodial days, as they could pose potential risks for their children during their custodial time. Rebecca Berry is a clinical psychologist at The Child Study Center at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at N.Y.U. Langone Health. She recommends if you and your child’s other parent are unable to agree on something, at least agree on what guidelines you will use or which experts you feel can be trusted to make the decision for you. Heeding the advice of experts you both agree on – such as your child’s pediatrician, teacher, or therapist, the C.D.C. or W.H.O. – represents more neutral territory than the opinion of a friend or relative and can make the decision feel like a joint one.
Remaining diplomatic and open-minded during the decision-making process can go a long way. It will signal to the other parent that their perspective regarding the situation is being heard and considered. It is important to remember that alterations to custodial arrangements made during this time are only temporary and should be in the child’s best interest. Either parent is allowed to re-evaluate and negotiate decisions related to the pandemic at any time if they feel the current schedule no longer serves the child’s best interest.