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Child Custody During COVID-19 and The Holidays

Dealing with child custody issues is stressful enough. Dealing with child custody issues during the COVID holidays poses an entirely complicated dilemma. Here’s how keep the magic alive for your children and ensure that the 2020 holidays are your best yet.

Shared custody is raising COVID-19 concerns as kids travel between households for the holidays this year. Millions of children split their time between parents every week and even more so during the holidays, but concerns over pandemic safety can make that time even more stressful.

Parents are facing unforeseen issues this year such as:

  • The child having to travel to another part of the state, or another state altogether, to visit their parent
  • One parent living in a COVID-19 hotspot
  • One parent had COVID-19 or is currently experiencing symptoms
  • One parent is not being careful about COVID-19 and could be putting the child in danger
  • One parent does not feel the virus is a true health threat
  • One parent is immunocompromised and in isolation
  • There may be a second wave and more shelter-in-place orders

These new and complex issues may be even more difficult if the courts backed up with cases because of the nationwide lockdowns this past year.

If you’re concerned about COVID-19 and your child’s holiday visitation schedule, then there are steps you can take to work it out with your co-parent, and then go directly to the court to ensure it is legally binding.

Parenting Time COVID Rules

Unless your specific court order prevents out-of-state travel or has other restrictions, then generally speaking, each parent may choose to travel during the holidays even during the pandemic, whether or not the other parent agrees. However, violating state travel laws, CDC and state quarantine guidelines and court-ordered visitation arrangements can potentially affect a custody case. Furthermore, personal issues may also arise when one parent feels safe with airline travel or interstate travel and the other parent prefers to stay at home and self-isolate.

First and foremost, if you chose to travel with your children during the holidays, check in advance for any quarantine restrictions. Following state-imposed guidelines while traveling and attending events during the holidays will help minimize or reduce any potential impact to your custody arrangement.

In Illinois, the Department of Public Health (IDPH) is offering recommendations on how to celebrate safer during the COVID-19 pandemic.  During a time when social distancing and limiting the number of people at gatherings is important, special considerations should be taken.

“COVID-19 has changed the way we work, live, and play, and will now change how we plan to celebrate the holidays,” said IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike.  “While the safest way to celebrate is with members of your household and connecting with others virtually, we know, for many, the holidays are all about family and friends, so we want to provide some tips on how to celebrate safer.”

The guidelines also say if you are hosting a holiday gathering, limit the number of guests and try to have as many activities outside as weather permits.

What this Means for Separated Parents

This is going to be a long winter for our country, businesses, schools, and families — no doubt. It will take a child-focused, selfless perspective by countless co-parents this holiday season in how to best approach visitation and traditions with families and children.

First and foremost, you must remember that child custody agreements in Illinois, and in every other state, are legally binding. As long as a parent is following these state guidelines for COVID-19 restrictions, most judges will not alter custody orders to prevent one parent from traveling with the children.

While it’s tempting to want to ask that you have your children for the entire holiday season, you should not be angry or upset with your ex-partner if you are denied this due to the schedule set by the court. This year, it is highly suggested that people who live together celebrate together, rather than mixing households. Consider hosting a virtual holiday get together or check in with your kids and mailing your gifts instead. We know it hurts to not be able to visit your children for the holidays, but if it means risking your own life to do so, it’s worthwhile to heavily consider the alternatives.

If you believe a holiday visitation or celebration could place your child and your family at a heightened risk for COVID-19, you should communicate this fact to the other parent and/or your attorney. Offer some safer options and attempt to be as flexible and compassionate as possible. Always try to set emotion aside and as parents, choose what is best for your children and your family as a whole.

Final Thoughts

This is going to be a long winter for our country, businesses, schools, and families — no doubt. It will take a child-focused, selfless perspective by countless co-parents this holiday season in how to best approach visitation and traditions with families and children. Most of all, keep in mind who the holidays are the most special for: your children.

If you need legal assistance to modify a child custody or parenting time agreement to reflect new choices that better keep your family safe, contact the experienced attorneys at Masters Law Group. We represents individuals in both their initial quest to set a parenting time schedule, as well as parents looking to modify a previously determined schedule.

 

Making a Parenting Plan for Thanksgiving

If this is your first Thanksgiving as a divorced or separated parent, there could be a lot of confusion wondering how to create a fair parenting plan. If the holiday periods haven’t been defined in the custodial arrangements yet, make sure that you are creating a plan that is fair and takes the best interest of the children into consideration.

This year, Thanksgiving falls on Thursday November 26th. A time designed for family gatherings, it’s a tough spot for many recently-divorced or separated parents.

Because Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving weekend are times when both parents want to be with the child or children, you want to make solid arrangements for this holiday in your holiday schedule. The obvious answer is to divide up the holidays, but it’s often hard to imagine how the holidays could be split in a way that feels fair to everyone. Let’s take a look at some of the options for splitting custody for Thanksgiving and other important holidays.

Alternating Holidays

For many parents, it makes sense to take an odd/even approach to the holiday season. For example, one parent could have the child/children for Thanksgiving on odd years, but Christmas for even years. The other parent would have the children for Thanksgiving on odd years and Christmas on even years. This way, each parent has their children for some of the big holidays every year, and they never go more than one year without their child for any given holiday.

Fixed Holidays

An an alternative choice by parents during the holidays is a fixed holiday schedule. This takes a more simple approach of assigning a certain holiday, every year, to a certain parent. While this could cause some form of conflict for those to want to alternate the holidays, it works well for separated couples with different religions. For example, if one parent is Jewish, they will have the child(ren) over Hanukkah, and if the other parent Christian, they will have the child(ren) over the Christmas holidays. However, this does leave holidays like Thanksgiving up for debate where individuals of almost every religion celebrate throughout the United States.

Split Holidays

Split holidays are a great idea if both parents live close together as the child(ren) can spend Thanksgiving (or any holiday) with BOTH parents at different locations. The only thing to decide upon is the time. For example, one parent can have custody the day prior and the first half of Thanksgiving day, then the other parent has custody the second half of the Thanksgiving and the following day. For obvious reasons, if the parents’ homes or holiday celebrations are too far apart, it can get more complicated.

Double Holidays

Finally, some parents may choose to run “double holidays” where they both have a day of celebrations, just on different days. Parents can simply let the custody schedule play out as is, letting whichever parent would normally have the child on the official holiday date celebrate that day, and the other parent can celebrate with the child on their next scheduled visit. Alternatively, parents can designate a date for the second holiday – one parent celebrates Thanksgiving on the 26th and the other celebrates on the 30th. In this scenario, parents could alternate years so that they each get the official holiday every other year.

Final Thoughts

The prospect of formulating a custody calendar is a daunting task for many recently divorced or separated parents.  Working directly with your co-parent to create your joint custody schedule and holiday custody plan is a great way to keep the peace. Your schedule will be unique to your family dynamic and must be sensitive to each of your personal schedules, but most importantly, putting the welfare of the children should always come first and foremost.

Parenting Time Rights with Masters Law Group

From allocation of parental responsibilities to legal separation matters and parenting time rights, Masters Law Group focuses on helping clients assert their rights to further the best interests of their children.

We understand parenting time of your child is a very emotional law topic, especially during the holidays. Masters Law Group represents individuals in both their initial quest to set a parenting time schedule, as well as parents looking to modify a previously determined schedule. Are you facing a family law issue involving the children? Contact us here today to schedule a consultation.