The 3 C’s: Covid, Custody & Co-Parenting By Marla Marinucci, Esq.
Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers® Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney
No doubt these are unprecedented times. Between the Covid-19 pandemic, the upcoming election, recent crazy weather events (a tornado touched down in Ocean City a few days ago), and a slew of other strange events, it has been difficult to find a silver lining in anything recently. I have always tried to find at least one positive aspect in everything, regardless of how negative a situation is. For example, as family law attorneys, something we have been wanting for years has been the ability to file documents electronically. Other courts and divisions have had electronic filing for many years, but not in the family part. Thanks to the pandemic, we now have electronic filing, and it is awesome. It has made life so much easier, and for the most part has had the effect of expediting things. Additionally, while I was initially not a big fan of having court appearances done via Zoom or other digital platform, I cannot imagine ever going back to having all in-person court hearings and am enjoying not paying $10 to park every time I have court in Atlantic City. I also cannot remember the last time I wore a suit, which has been another huge plus. Granted, in no way do I believe that this pandemic has been a good thing. The point I am trying to make is that out of bad, can come good. Let’s talk about custody and the effects Covid-19 is having on coparenting. Take, for example, the Governor’s order to close all schools starting in mid-March. I was so thrilled to learn of many situations of parents (divorced or just not together anymore) who successfully, and without court intervention, co-parented with each other to modify parenting time in light of the new normal: remote learning. In nearly every case of this kind that I heard about where the parents worked things out themselves, the noncustodial parent’s time increased substantially. No doubt there were plenty of cases that had the opposite result whereby one party used the pandemic as a shield in an attempt to prevent the other party from having any parenting time at all. However, I found that such a tactic was immediately shut down by the Court absent certain unique circumstances that warranted a suspension of parenting time to one party.
There are many cases that, due to distance (i.e., the parents reside in different states far apart), one parent is not able to enjoy much parenting time during the school year because it’s either too expensive (requires plane tickets) or there are not enough school breaks to warrant parenting time beyond Christmas break, spring break, and the summer. Even if an agreement states that one party is entitled to all three-day weekends during the school year, that is hardly enough time for anyone, nor is it fair to the child, because if it involves flying, there will be substantial time spent in the airport on two of the three days, and it’s just plain exhausting. With Covid-19 and the advent of remote learning, now is the time for the non-custodial parent, who rarely gets to see their child/children during the school year due to geography, to enjoy more parenting time. This applies to parents who live near each other as well. From what I have gleaned online, most school districts nationwide are offering a few different options for the 2020-2021 school year, including a hybrid schedule that involves a combination of in-person learning and remote learning, as well as an all-remote-learning option. As of the time of this writing, it appears possible that the Governor in New Jersey could once again order that schools in New Jersey close again out of safety precautions for the staff and the students. Assuming there are no parental fitness issues involved, and the pre-pandemic parenting schedule was determined based on each party’s work schedules at the time, and of course the child actually attending school, if one or both parents are now working from home, AND your child’s school is either one that involves two or three days of remote learning and two or three days of in-person learning, or all-remote learning, now is the time to flex those atrophied co-parenting muscles and take advantage of these unprecedented times. It is the child’s right to spend as much time as possible with both parents. More often than not, one parent spends far too much time and energy limiting the other parent’s time with the child for reasons that have nothing to do with the safety of the child, and for the most part are founded in spitefulness. Remote learning can be done anywhere, near and far. A child who lives with Mom and attends school in New Jersey and whose school has implemented an all-remote learning plan can follow that same plan with Dad, who lives in California, and with whom the child may not spend a lot of time due to distance and school. Temporarily modifying a parenting plan does not require a court order provided both parties agree. This is what co-parenting is all about.
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117 Atlantic Avenue, Ocean City, NJ 08226 • CALL: (609) 398-1900 Fax: (609) 398-7292 • Email: marinucci@OCNJfamilylaw.com Marla Marinucci, Esq.
Certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney
Marla Marinucci, Esq., is a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. She has been certified by the Supreme Court of New Jersey as a Matrimonial Law Attorney. Her primary focus is Family law matters. She received a B.A. in French from Rutgers Camden, and received her law degree from Rutgers School of Law- Camden.
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