COVID-19 effectively canceled summer for many families in New Jersey and throughout the country. It also put a wrench in many painstakingly drawn parenting plans. If you’ve missed out on summer parenting time with your children, there may be a number of ways to work with your co-parent to recoup.
- Request additional time from the other parent. This is the most obvious and probably simplest solution, but it’s likely to work best for co-parents who are amiable and communicative. A compromise could mean tacking on a few additional weekends or extra evenings together. It might mean offering to help more during the week with distance learning or homeschooling. It’s a good idea to approach your ex with civility and respect, but you may still need to prepare for a bit of negotiation. If you and your co-parent aren’t on the best of terms, you may want to speak with an experienced Monmouth County family law attorney to help you facilitate the request.
- Mediation. In situations where your parenting time was seriously disrupted or altered as a result of COVID-19 (true for a lot of families of health care workers and first responder.), you should discuss with your attorney the possibility of mediation. We can help you devise a solution that is fair and workable for all involved.
- Social distancing contracts. Another aspect of negotiations with which an attorney may be able to assist you is in drafting some type of social distancing contract with your co-parent. These can include things like agreements to adhere to certain hygiene and social distancing practices or limiting exposure to other children and families by creating a “bubble” of agreed-up individuals. This can help address specific concerns and keep all parties involved as healthy as possible.
Whether you have a family law attorney help you draft one or you informally agree to one of your own accord, the threat of withholding parenting time should be off the table. If you feel your co-parent is putting undue pressure on you to sign something with which you don’t feel comfortable, discuss this with your lawyer.
If nothing else, you might consider packing in some additional time with your child virtually. These can include video chats, but there are also a host of interactive apps that allow you to play games, watch movies and even take classes together. Of course, it’s not the same as physically being with your child, but it might help to maintain your bond during the time you’re apart.
No matter what you decide, it’s a good idea to get any parenting change plans in writing. Otherwise, you risk the possibility of penalties for violation of parenting time orders under New Jersey Rule of Court 5:3 7(a).
To formally modify any parenting time change and ensure it is enforceable, you must either create a consent order (an agreement between both parents that alters the pre-existing agreement) or file a motion demonstrating a substantial change in circumstances. Both are subject to court approval, but consent orders are typically approved, so long as they are reasonable and in the best interest of the child. Your Monmouth County family law attorney can help ensure your agreement meets the necessary criteria.
Note also that if you missed supervised visitation time due to the pandemic, the New Jersey Department of Children and Families has released a notice indicating that as the state is gradually reopening, DCF is resuming its facilitation of supervised in-person parent-child and sibling visitation.
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