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How COVID-19 Affects Child Custody in New Jersey

Child custody has emerged as a lynchpin issue for many families during the COVID-19 pandemic. Job losses, school closings, and the exposure of essential workers in various industries to COVID-19 have all caused upheavals in family dynamics across the US.

If you're a New Jersey resident concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic may affect your child custody arrangement, you're not alone. Today, we're taking a look at the various issues currently impacting families and child custody agreements across the US, as well as giving our best tips for how families can tackle the COVID-19 pandemic effectively.

Our child custody attorneys are here to answer any questions you have about your child custody arrangement. Contact us online or via phone at (908) 259-6673 to learn more.

How COVID-19 Job Losses Affect Child Custody

The economic fallout of COVID-19 is unprecedented. Since the beginning of the epidemic, private payrolls have fallen by more than 20 million—the worst drop in ADP history. Economists at the New York Times estimated the unemployment rate to be around 13% in early April, and it's only increased since. Those are numbers rivaling the great depression.

While the government has enacted measures to help stimulate the economy, including providing stimulus checks of $1200+ to citizens and increasing unemployment benefits by $600 per month, those measures won't last forever. Not all the jobs lost during the COVID-19 pandemic will come back once states start to ease quarantines and re-open their economies, leaving many parents in an uncertain position financially.

Children can be a significant financial strain, especially depending on their needs. Some parents may find themselves unable to take care of their children financially during and post-quarantine, inciting the need for increased child support or a new child custody arrangement that places less of a financial burden on the parent in need.

School and Childcare Facility Closings Impact Custody Arrangements

For many divorced parents, schools and childcare facilities play an invaluable role in their custody arrangement. If both parents work, these facilities look after children until the parents can take care of them. Frequently, parents also use these locations as a go-between to exchange custody of children.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, most schools have closed for the year, and childcare facilities are either closed or reserved for essential workers.

For many parents, this introduces challenging logistical difficulties into the custody arrangement.

Most schools require parents to work with children during this time via online learning to continue their schoolwork. Parents who have retained employment and now work from home are faced with the challenge of trying to juggle their jobs at the same time they're supposed to be coaching their child through a literature or math class. Additionally, parents who use schools or childcare facilities to exchange custody must find a new location to exchange their children.

Other social activities, such as playdates that many parents rely on to aid their parenting, are now out of the question as individuals practice social distancing.

All these factors can lead to increased tension between parents or the worry that children are not receiving the care they deserve while a parent is trying to balance work and school, leading to one party filing for a custody modification.

Concerns that Essential Workers May Expose Children to COVID-19 Are Mounting

Parents working in a variety of industries, such as grocery store workers, warehouse workers, and nurses, or other healthcare professionals, are all on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic. They risk coming into contact with the coronavirus daily, and as such, risk exposing their children to it.

For many parents, that's a significant cause for concern. Many essential workers find their ex spontaneously filed an emergency child custody order modification to remove their child custody out of fear. Essential workers in such positions are faced with a heartbreaking decision: they can quit their job, which may make them ineligible to receive unemployment benefits, or continue to work at the cost of losing custody of their children until the pandemic subsides.

Alternatively, many essential workers are also requesting voluntary child custody order modifications, leaving their children with their ex, so they don't expose them to the coronavirus. New Jersey's close proximity to New York City, the area hardest hit by the virus in the US, makes parents particularly concerned.

A lack of understanding in the medical community about how COVID-19 works exacerbates these fears. For example, some medical researchers think that increased exposure to the coronavirus results in worse symptoms (a phenomenon called 'increased viral load'). Additionally, although children and young adults may generally be less susceptible to the virus, continued research shows a variety of unpredictable symptoms for individuals who contract COVID-19.

For example, many coronavirus patients suffer from long-term lung damage. As the pandemic continues, medical researchers continually find new virus symptoms and long-term effects.

Update: As of early May, the New York State Department of Health released an advisory warning parents that COVID-19 may be linked to a serious inflammatory disease similar to toxic shock syndrome affecting children throughout the state.

Parents concerned that their children may contract the virus from their ex, or who have children with conditions that may exacerbate the severity of the virus, may file for custody modifications to try and protect their children.

Our Tips for Navigating Child Custody During COVID-19

If you're a New Jersey resident and parent experiencing difficulty navigating your custody arrangement due to COVID-19, you're not alone. New Jersey radio station New Jersey 101.5 recently released an article detailing how many New Jersey parents are pushing for custody order modifications during this trying time.

Here are our tips for navigating your custody arrangement during the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • Maintain open, honest communication with your ex. We understand many divorced parents find consistent communication with their ex difficult, particularly if they're estranged. However, maintaining communication is vital during this time. Both parties should agree, or at least be on the same page if a custody modification must be made. You don't want to end up in a situation where you or your ex unilaterally file for a custody modification that the other party then contests, resulting in an unnecessary court battle and legal fees. If you're considering filing for a custody modification, tell your ex why. Share your concerns with each other. If you or your ex is an essential worker, discuss how to approach that situation. Work together to develop a plan for online schooling, so your children receive the education they need. Communicating and collaborating effectively may not be easy, but you'll thank yourself in the long run for time, stress (and potentially money) saved.
  • Help your children understand the pandemic. For many children, this is a stressful time. Young children no longer have their friends or teachers to lean on as consistently, which may be confusing. Older children, such as high schoolers looking forward to graduation or prom, have to deal with a disappointing end to their year. Ask your children how they're feeling. Encourage them to be open and honest about their emotions. Work with them to make online schooling more engaging. Arrange virtual playdates with their friends. Working with your children and understanding their needs allows you to deal with the quarantine more effectively.
  • If you do need to file for a custody modification, handle it with care and compassion. Make sure you let your children know the modification is only temporary and isn't a result of one parent caring less or not wanting to see the children anymore. Focus on helping the parent with less custody maintain consistent contact using methods such as nightly video chats with the children.
  • Take the situation seriously. As we mentioned earlier, experts are still unsure about the long-term effects of COVID-19, and different individuals react to the virus in unique ways. Follow CDC guidelines for hygiene, such as wearing a mask and gloves when going outside, consistently washing your hands, and wiping down packages you receive with disinfectant. The more steps you can take to avoid dealing with COVID-19, the better.

By focusing on the wellbeing of your children, you can navigate your child custody arrangement with confidence during this time.

To speak with an experienced child custody lawyer about your custody arrangement, contact us online or give us a call at (908) 259-6673.

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