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As the coronavirus continues to spread throughout our community, it has upended life in many ways. Here are some issues to be aware of if you are going through a divorce, or are co-parenting with a former partner or spouse in these troubled times.

  1. As of March 16, 2020, the New York State Court System has closed to all but essential functions and certain emergency applications. In the Supreme Court, divorce actions are effectively suspended, with any appearances, motions, or trials scheduled over the next month or more being adjourned without a new date. In the Family Court, existing Orders of Protection have been extended until the Court resumes normal operation. New applications for Orders of Protection will still accepted, as will applications for child support with a showing that there is an urgent need.
  2. Domestic violence is likely to increase as this crisis progresses. If you or a loved one is experiencing physical or verbal abuse, you should still call the police and contact an attorney to obtain an Order of Protection.
  3. Without the Courts available to resolve disputes between co-parents, it will become increasingly important to use common sense and flexibility to minimize the impact of this crisis on your children. While existing custody orders and parenting time schedules continue to be controlling, adjustments will have to be made as work schedules change or to address child care issues with the closure of schools. Your child care arrangements may also be impacted if grandparents previously watched your children, as it may become necessary to avoid contact with them as they are at higher risk.
  4. It may become more appropriate to follow the schedule for summer breaks, rather than for the school year. Ideally, the summer schedule would reduce the number of exchanges, and thus the number of interactions, with your co-parent. Children should wash their hands immediately following an exchange to stop the spread of the virus from one house to the other.
  5. Communication with your co-parent will also become increasingly important to maintain a routine and structure for your children during this period of profound upheaval. This should include a home-schooling routine at both houses so your children are reminded that this is not just an early summer break.
  6. If you are receiving child support from someone who loses his or her job as a result of this crisis, or you are paying support and lose your job, the courts will look to base child support upon any unemployment benefits that are received, as a bare minimum. Every effort should be made to find new employment at a similar income, with those efforts being supported by documentation in the form of emails, applications, and the like.
  7. Any modification of child support will only be effective as of the date of filing a modification petition. Even though you may not be able to appear on the petition until the Courts resume normal operations, you should still contact an attorney to get a modification petition prepared and filed.
  8. If you or your co-parent is quarantined, your children should remain away for their well-being, even if that means they stay with the other parent for the full quarantine period. If for any reason your co-parent is not able to care for your children, you should make a plan in the event that you become infected. This plan should avoid jeopardizing the health of someone in an at-risk group, such as a grandparent. If your children become infected, they should remain where they are at the time of infection to stop the spread to the other parent’s house.

As we work our way through this crisis without parallel, every effort should be made to provide the consistency and stability your children need to deal with the anxiety they will be feeling.

Having a conversation with your co-parent to agree on a plan of action in the event the situation changes for one or both of you would be beneficial.

If for any reason you are not able to effectively co-parent, you need to put a plan in place to ensure the children are cared for, following all of the advice and recommendations of your child’s pediatrician, the Centers for Disease Control, and New York State Department of Health.

This is not intended to be legal advice.  You should contact an attorney for advice regarding your specific situation.

Martin S. Butcher, Esq.
Martin S. Butcher, Senior Counsel

Martin Butcher is senior counsel with the firm and practices Matrimonial and Family Law, and Bankruptcy.

He can be reached by phone at 866-303-9595 toll free or 845-764-9656 and by email.

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