During these unconventional times, families committed to being good co-parents and putting the interest and safety of their children first should consider these practical tips:
- Stay Informed: Get your information regarding COVID-19 from reliable sources such as the CDC at: cdc.gov/coronavirus or for Iowa information: https://idph.iowa.gov. Make sure you and your children are implementing all the recommendations to reduce the risk of spreading the virus, including frequent handwashing and daily cleaning with appropriate products of door knobs, phones, remotes, keypads, etc.
- Following Court Orders: As much as possible try to follow any existing Court orders regarding care schedules. However, remember that you can change the care schedule so long as you and the other parent agree to the change.
The Court system is also being impacted by the virus. All trials and hearings scheduled to start before May 4 will be rescheduled or conducted by telephone, depending on the choice of the judge. Courts may approve attendance at an on-line course for required children-in-the-middle classes. You should contact us if you plan to attend a course online.
- Effective Co-Parenting is Critical: Now is the time where good co-parenting is critical. Make sure you put your children first. If you have symptoms, you should tell the other parent and not exercise your care time until you have been tested and cleared for contact by your health care provider.
Share any test results, positive or negative, with the other parent.
If in person visitation is not possible, offer visitation through Facetime, Skype or other similar applications.
Work with the other parent to come up with a consistent plan for the children that will be followed in both homes. Your plan might include how to handle education while schools are closed, social interactions, and appropriate activities for the children during the period of social distancing.
If you have not previously used an app for co-parenting this would be a good time to try one. Here are some suggestions:
- Our Family Wizard
- The non-compliant parent: If you have a co-parent that is not complying with CDC recommended social distancing and hygiene practices, you should first try to talk to them about following the recommendations. Remember in your communications to use a BIFF Response®: make sure the communication is brief, informative, friendly and firm.
If the parent still will not comply, you should contact your lawyer. However, keep in mind that right now Court access is limited to emergency matters.
- Economic Consequences: You should still plan to pay your support obligations as required by Court orders. However, if your income or expenses have been dramatically impacted by COVID-19, start by having a conversation with the other parent. If it is not possible for you to pay all of your support because of a reduction or loss of pay, pay as much as you can. If you are suddenly faced with increased expenses such as medical bills, you should pay your support obligation first and your medical bills second. Most health care providers will allow you to set up a payment plan based on your ability to pay.
You can learn more about what type of financial help may become available under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (“FFCRA”) here:
The keys to managing the current situation will be staying informed, flexible and respectful. If you have specific concerns that are not addressed above, please call us. The attorneys in the Family Law Group is available to help you in whatever way you need.
Allison M. Heffern is an Attorney and Senior Vice President of Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, P.L.C. Allison’s practice focuses on family law and litigation. Typical family law work for Allison includes dissolution of marriage (divorce), both traditional and collaborative, child custody and visitation disputes, among many other family legal services.
Caitlin L. Slessor is an Attorney and Vice President at S&I whose practice focuses on Family Law. Caitlin represents clients from the beginning to the end of their family law disputes. This may include high conflict custody cases or complicated business division dissolutions.
Elizabeth J. Craig is an attorney at Shuttleworth & Ingersoll, P.L.C. Her work is primarily focused on appellate law. Liz works out of the Coralville office and is an integral member of the Shuttleworth team.