As our nation and the world deals with the Covid-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, divorce and separated parents face many unique challenges. Most people, including our children, have experienced major changes in their daily lives. Some people are working more hours than ever before, for example, healthcare workers and grocers. Others are now working from home and some have even been laid off. Our situation may go on for just a few weeks or it may continue for months. In times like this everyone needs to be flexible and cooperate. Here Attorneys Katherine Canadeo and Yadira Rein have answered some of the most common questions they are being asked today:
The kids go back to their dad’s house tonight, do I have to exchange now that the “Safer at Home” order is in effect?
Yes, the Safer from Home Order signed by Governor Evers on March 24, 2020, specifically indicates that placement-related exchanges are deemed essential travel. (¶15, sub. e. State of Wisconsin Department of Health Services Emergency Order #12.)
My spouse is refusing to allow me my court-ordered placement time, what can I do?
Although courts are not hearing non-emergency matters right now, we can still file a Motion for Contempt and/or a Motion to Enforce your placement rights. Many family court commissioners have stated their intent to order makeup time for any parent who misses placement time due to the other parent’s willful refusal to follow the Order. Parents should remember that their decisions and actions during this time may be judged later by a judicial officer or guardian ad litem.
The kids want to stay with me and I am working from home whereas the other parent is not. Can I just keep the kids?
Absent extraordinary circumstances the parents need to follow their Court Orders. If one parent or a member of their household tests positive for Coronavirus and/or has reason to believe they may have been exposed to someone who has tested positive for Coronavirus, that information should be communicated to the other parent immediately. In those circumstances, it would most likely be in the best interests of the children to stay with the parent who has not tested positive or been exposed to the virus. If a parent’s placement time is paused due to exposure to the virus, the parents should discuss ways in which the children will keep in touch with that parent, such as calls, texts, video, online games, reading over video, and so forth. We would also encourage the parties to discuss with their healthcare providers how long the children should refrain from having contact with the exposed or infected parent and follow those recommendations.
Now, if one parent is able to work from home whereas the opposite parent is still required to go into work, it may make sense for the work from home parent to provide supervision during the hours where the opposite parent is required to report to work. This will require a degree of communication and flexibility that is not possible in all relationships; however, to the extent you are able to do this, it will generally serve the best interests of your children.
Remember: absent an agreement by both parents to modify the schedule and/or extraordinary circumstances like the example above, the Court Order needs to be followed.
I need to file for divorce but I am told the courts are closed, is this true?
While the Courts are not holding many in-person hearings, some hearings are still being held by telephone, including placement-related temporary order hearings in new divorce filings. The Court recognizes the fact that some people need to commence a divorce/separation from their spouse now more than ever and filings are still being accepted electronically as they have always been. Filing now could ensure that your matter is first in line to be heard when the courts resume business as usual.
If you are having a difficult time navigating these challenges you are not alone. We stand ready to help and you should feel free to contact us. In times like these, it is important to remind ourselves of the adage, “this too shall pass.”