Stay-at-home orders and recommendations have been implemented throughout the St. Louis area. Unless you are emergency personnel, law enforcement, health care or other essential worker, you are likely one of the people that is ordered to stay in your home.
Many of you are asking if you should continue to exchange your child as detailed in your parenting plan? With a few exceptions, the answer is Yes.
Parents are expected to follow their parenting plan during the pandemic.
Complying with your parenting plan is considered essential travel, and everyone is supposed to comply with their parenting plan schedules. Do not to look for technicalities to keep from having to abide by your parenting plan. I think it is worth repeating: Do not use the pandemic to try and find ways to limit the other parent’s parenting time. Judges will likely have little tolerance for parents who try and manipulate the current crisis to take time away from the other parent or otherwise cause trouble.
When might it be appropriate during the pandemic to deviate from your parenting plan?
With that said, there are some circumstances that may indicate that you should deviate from your current plan. This is new territory for everyone. Under existing Missouri law, I expect judges to be looking for parents to continue to support one another as parents and make good choices to keep children and each other safe.
1. A Parent has Been Traveling
If a parent has been traveling, that parent should wait 14 days after returning to resume parenting-time. Children thrive on frequent, meaningful connections with both parents. If a parent must be physically absent, try arranging some virtual visits like Zoom, Skype, Facebook chat or any of the other video chat options that work for you both. And, of course, don’t forget that a plain old phone call is always an option too. Do what you can to be supportive of one another.
2. Parent is Sick with Flu-like Symptoms
If the other parent is sick with flu like symptoms, then it is prudent not to exchange until a COVID test comes back negative or some other “ok” has been received from the doctor. Don’t overreact. A single sneeze or cough is not enough. Again, parents behaving like spiteful opportunists have far more to lose than gain by causing unnecessary drama.
3. Exchange Location is Unsafe or Closed
What if your exchange location is unavailable or ill advised? Communicate with the other parent to come up with ideas. Perhaps you can just meet outside, but not to go in. You could do side by side car exchanges in front of your normal place. If you are too scared to exchange so close or without supervision (domestic violence cases) then try curbside exchanges. One parent drives up and does not exit the car while the other parent sends the children out.
There are, of course, other exceptions that may arise. The rule is still the same: parenting together is always better for your child than looking for ways to shut the other out. Follow your parenting plan, use common sense and compassion. If ever there was a time to be unified as a parenting unit, this is it.
If you have questions about your parenting plan during the outbreak, contact me.