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Child Custody

Child Custody: An Unexpected Battleground in the Era of COVID-19

At this point, most of us have probably felt the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in our day-to-day lives. The pandemic expanded more rapidly than many expected and has impacted industries and people in unexpected ways.

For many co-parents engaged in child custody arrangements, the pandemic has become a battleground. Today, we're exploring two key reasons why COVID-19 has become a custody battleground for many parents.

An Unexpected Economic Downturn Makes Co-Parenting Harder

The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by storm. As US city governors instituted stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread of the virus and travel slowed to a crawl, businesses like restaurants, travel providers, and hotels that rely on a consistent influx of new customers were crippled. The lockdown also negatively impacted small businesses, like mom and pop stores, that rely on foot traffic and a consistent customer base.

Over 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits since the pandemic's outset. The US Department of Commerce released statistics in July stating the gross domestic product (GDP) shrunk by a quarterly rate of around 9% (32.7% annualized), the biggest single-quarter economic downturn since the 1940s.

Skyrocketing unemployment rates create a vicious cycle. People prioritize saving money or paying for necessities like rent and food, decreasing the amount of capital consumers inject into the economy and further reducing income for businesses. As a result, over 100,000 small businesses have permanently closed since the pandemic started, and millions more are in jeopardy.

The economic downturn is an issue for many co-parents. Parents who lose their job may find it challenging to support their child while on unemployment benefits or searching for a job. Similarly, parents who own businesses may find themselves exceptionally stressed or overworked, which can introduce tension into the family dynamic.

For many co-parents who have maintained employment, things are just as tricky. Parents who find themselves working from home may find balancing their career and parenting duties difficult. Parents who are working as essential workers (nurses, doctors, cashiers, restaurant workers, etc.) also find themselves in between a rock and a hard place. Continuing to see their children in-person means potentially exposing them to the virus, but for many parents, reducing contact with their children or working remotely isn't a feasible option either (especially if they're the head of household).

The New York Times recently explored this dynamic in an article that covered the stories of parents like Dr. Bertha Mayorquind, who temporarily lost custody of her children after her co-parent raised concerns about her proximity to the virus as a medical professional. Dr. Mayorquind was able to regain custody, but only after taking on a telemedicine role—something that obviously won't be an option for every parent.

Kids Staying Home: Another Unexpected Challenge

Schools across the country shut down to combat the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, most students are now at home all the time—which represents another big challenge for co-parents.

Co-parents no longer have access to schools to exchange custody. Many will be thrust into the role of de facto teacher's aide as they help their child with online learning, which they may not be prepared for. Working parents—whether at home or in the office—will also find it challenging to parent their child while fulfilling their professional duties.

These two factors—economic instability and shifting family dynamics as parents and children are forced to adapt to stay-at-home orders, lost jobs, new work from home positions, and more—have caused custody disputes to skyrocket. Many parents feel as though their co-parent isn't handling the situation correctly, leading them to file custody modification cases (similar to what happened with Dr. Mayorquind).

At O’Neil Wysocki, P.C., our lawyers stand ready to help clients navigate custody issues with confidence.

To schedule a consultation with our team, contact us online or via phone at (972) 852-8000.