As New York begins to come out of lockdown, things are slowly beginning to return to normalcy. Restaurants are starting up with outdoor dining, beaches are getting crowded, and most importantly, workplaces are opening again. As we return to work, divorced and separated parents with children will need to assess their children’s wellbeing and may need to prepare a plan for contingencies. Scheduling conflicts, babysitters, school, and staying safe while returning to work are all aspects that need to be carefully considered.
Returning to work can be a very challenging situation since summer camps and programs are mostly closed, and social distancing makes hiring babysitters challenging, if not impossible. If only one parent is returning to work, the other may have to invest more time with the child and take more of the responsibilities. Minor adjustments to parenting schedules can be done informally without the need for court intervention. However, in more drastic situations, such as if a parent loses their job due to COVID-19 and a parenting schedule needs to be significantly revised, it may be more appropriate to petition the court and modify the agreement. The child’s safety must be the priority and social distancing must be considered if there is possible exposure to the virus. Parents should also consider speaking with their employers, to see if accommodations can be made, such as a more flexible work schedule or continuing to work remotely if child care is still an issue. The child is the priority, so communication between the parents is critical.
If an agreement requires significant modification in light of the pandemic, there are ways to go about it. You are able to petition the court for a modification, but the change must be for the child’s best interests. Additionally, a substantial change in circumstances must be present. If both parents are in mutual agreement about a modification, an informal arrangement can be made without having to formally modify the agreement. This is more of a short-term solution, and the informal agreement is not legally binding. Work schedule changes, social distancing, and lack of childcare due to COVID-19 may result in situations where formal modification of an agreement is needed. Retaining the services of an experienced attorney to guide you through these unique challenges during the pandemic is invaluable in these instances.