COVID-19, Co-Parenting, and Your California Family Court Case

As the response to the coronavirus (COVID-19) ramps up at home and around the globe, we’ll take on family law issues that come into play during this unprecedented time. Here are guidelines for general questions you may have about how coronavirus affects co-parenting, custody and visitation, and updates regarding court closures.

Can I meet with an attorney by phone or teleconference?

Yes. If you are scheduled to meet with one of our attorneys, we are happy to accommodate a remote meeting or to conduct the meeting over the phone. Our offices are enabled with video teleconferencing using Zoom, which is available for Android and Apple mobile devices, and desktop PCs. Let our offices know if you would like to set up a phone or teleconference meeting in lieu of an in-person meeting.

How will response to COVID-19 affect my case in the courts?

You should expect significant delays with pending court cases. This will be because of possible shut downs, or slowdowns associated with the virus’ spread or efforts to contain it. Continuances (postponements) will be readily granted, and hearings will then be set further out.  While in some cases, a phone appearance may be allowed, it may not be advisable depending on your case and the nature of the hearing. Make sure you speak with your attorney about the specifics.

You are able to monitor local websites for news of closures and other announcements.

  • For San Bernardino Superior Court updates, view this link.
  • For Riverside Superior Court updates, view this link.
  • For Orange County Superior Court updates, view this link.
  • For Los Angeles County Superior Court updates, view this link.
  • For San Diego County Superior Court updates, view this link.

Should I delay a divorce due to COVID-19?

The short answer: if you've made the decision to proceed with a divorce in the first place, there does not appear to be an objective reason not to proceed with it. If a couple is thinking about reconciliation, a successful reconciliation comes from a reflection and reunification. It does not come from fear or apprehension.

While there is tremendous uncertainty ahead of us, simply not proceeding with the divorce that you believed was an important decision to make previously does not make that uncertainty go away. If you have a divorce attorney, you should work with that attorney to ensure that necessary steps are taken to try to keep your case at the front of the queue. Doing nothing will simply have the effect of moving you to the back of the line when the line starts moving again.

If you have already started the divorce process, given the current uncertainties with the court system, many hearings are being postponed and delayed inordinately. The cases are "continuing" but expect substantial delays in resolution in court.

Filing for divorce and moving forward with it is a deeply personal process. We strive to provide our clients with all of the information, all of the risks, and all of the potential consequences so that they can make this very personal, life affecting decision. While this clearly includes economic analysis, it often includes many emotional challenges, relationships with extended or blended family members, economic self-reliance, and a litany of other consequences.

Note that under California law, the date of separation is the economic dividing point for the acquisition of debt that is considered to be community. If that date of separation is moved because of an attempted and failed reconciliation (or the appearance of one), Then you could expose yourself to half of the unanticipated debt incurred by the other party.

If I am in a shared custody situation and a parent or child tests positive for COVID-19, how should I handle custody and visitation?

Use common sense, parental instincts, and think about both short-term concerns and long-term effects. The thought process should be very different if the child has a special sensitivity, or anyone in a child or parent’s lifestyle universe has heightened risks associated with COVID-19.

First, the medically recommended quarantine for anyone who has been exposed to the corona virus is two weeks. Undoubtedly, there will be exposures that involve parents and children. How do you deal with this?  Do what is medically necessary or appropriate: if the child has been exposed to someone who is an identified carrier (in proximity), or worse, has tested positive, above all, follow a doctor's instructions. If there are outstanding custodial considerations, like the other parent is demanding “my time” with the child, then politely but firmly explain that it is not possible based upon medical advice.  Please make sure that you share all doctors’ appointments with the other parent, and allow them to attend. This does not include cases with domestic violence restraining orders that do not provide for such close contact.

For those parents who have figured out that we all make sacrifices in the short term to the best interests of our children in the long term, just follow your common sense.  If a parent is unfortunately kept away for a short period of time, make it up to him or her when things calms down. The other parent will appreciate it, and so will the child.

Above all, understand that quarantine is for the protection of the child or parent, especially if they are included in the group of people most adversely affected by COVID-19. The challenge here is that you may not know that a person has a particular medical condition that increase vulnerability.

You are not just thinking about you or the child, you are thinking about grandma and grandpa, or about another classmate’s grandma or grandpa. We all have to be socially responsible.

What if I suspect that someone in the other parent’s household is sick?

The first question I might have is, how would you have reacted to this a year ago? If you trusted the other parent's level of responsibility a year ago, why would you not today? Don't allow the hysteria associated with COVID-19 to trump a co-parenting relationship. If somebody is coughing up a storm, or complaining of a fever and insists that there's nothing wrong, that's an objective basis to suggest getting checked. The child should stay with the other parent in the mean time.

Moreover, if somebody's already sick, your child has already been exposed. Now you should be thinking about protecting grandma and grandpa and other vulnerable people. That's where the social responsibility comes into the discussion.

What are some co-parenting guidelines for dealing with unexpected school or daycare closures?

This is challenging. Some parents will look at every comma in their judgment to try and gain a tactical advantage for gaining parenting time as though this is a contest. For those who think it's a contest, it will be a contest. Unfortunately, your child is the one who is going to lose. The way you should be co-parenting is to do what is best for the child based on relative work schedules and susceptibilities of family members.

I have to stay home my child because the school closed so I am not working. Can I get more child support?

Short answer: yes, maybe. The good news is the pending congressional legislation may provide you temporary pay for relief because of the closing of schools and day cares. The federal government is stepping in to fill that void which may potentially replace your lost income. Often times that is done though your employer and other sources. If it continues and you lose your job because your child care is unavailable, then you might be eligible for a child support modification. Now you get into a logistical problem. With the courts closing, it might take you six months to get to court for a temporary modification of support that will be over before you get there. You have to spend wisely in these times, and that might not be the best use of your funds.

The other parent and I don't communicate well. What is my best bet for making sure my children are protected from COVID-19 exposure while in the other parent’s care?

Be informational, be helpful, and don't be accusatory. Do not interrogate the child about what happens at the other parents’ house. When you provide information that you think is helpful, and talk to the co-parent like you would any other family member. Avoid any admonitions about how they need to conduct themselves because that's not going to help the safety of your child. If you do really believe that your child is at risk, there are co-parenting apps like Talking Parents and Our Family Wizard that foster healthy co-parenting conversation. The more you help the other parent, the healthier your child will be.

This page is updated as news about COVID-19 progresses. Leave a comment with related questions you might have and we'll address them as soon as possible.

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