The Bay Area issued its first Shelter-in-Place (SIP) orders effective March 16, 2020. San Francisco Superior Court, and other Bay Area courts, responded swiftly with its first orders regarding operations during the SIP. The Association of Family and Conciliation Courts released guidelines for parents sharing custody.
Absent emergency situations, our courts agreed that a child’s best interest is met through adherence to the custodial schedules previously ordered, ensuring frequent and continuing contact with both (or all) parents. Santa Clara Superior Court provided guidelines in its 4/2/20 Notice: “The COVID-19 pandemic is not, by itself, a reason to deny visitation or parenting time. Nor does the requirement to shelter-at-home justify, by itself, the denial of visitation or parenting time.” The SIP orders permitted movement for “travel required by law enforcement or court order,” to ensure that parents and legal guardians complied with custody orders.
As courts restricted filings except for domestic violence matters or emergency situations to prevent immediate and irreparable harm to a child, many parents were forced to set aside their distrust in the other parent and trust that he or she would take appropriate actions to protect the child from exposure to the virus. Parents may have to find creative ways to address the pandemic while co-parenting. For example, parents on a 2-2-5 schedule may decide to move to an alternating weekly schedule to reduce the children’s movement and the frequency of contact. Parents who are essential workers and were exposed to the virus or those parents who cannot visit their children due to air travel restrictions, may need to arrange for make-up time or permit more phone contact than ordered by the court.
During this time of uncertainty, fear, frustration, and transition, the WWII-era British slogan, “Keep Calm and Carry On” has become an important mantra. In some respects, our positions as family law attorneys require us to “Keep Calm” on a daily basis. We should guide our clients to work with their co-parent (or co-parents) to ensure the children’s best interests remain paramount during this unprecedented time. Keeping calm has become especially important in meeting the many challenges that arise in our daily lives as a result of COVID-19. As in-person meetings, court hearings, mediations, and depositions were no longer options, we learned to use video conferencing, text messaging, and voice calls as means of communication to foster our practices and remain connected with clients, colleagues and workmates. Our office has weekly standing Zoom meetings. These have become a bright spot each week. Seeing each other virtually has created an unexpected sense of community despite the lack of in-person contact.
While we don’t know when things will go “back to normal,” until that day reminding our clients to Keep Calm, to trust the other parent, and to be creative in their parenting are essential to co-parenting in a pandemic.
About the Author:
Diana Lauretta Leonida is a Certified Family Law Specialist and Senior Counsel at Nachlis Freeman.