The novel coronavirus has reshaped our society in unimaginable ways. With businesses and schools closed, the devastating social and economic impact across our country has been felt at home by many families. The seemingly “new normal” of working from home has posed unique challenges for parents who must adapt to their children learning from home – a daunting task.
For parents who are divorced or separated, the social distancing guidelines, stay-at-home orders, and disruption to normal affairs have caused a logistical nightmare in navigating custody and parenting time scheduling.
Indeed, the fear of the virus has included the fear of many parents that their ex-spouse may not be taking the same precautionary measures during their parenting time, or the belief that their children are subjected to a higher risk with the other parent. Other custody complications may include the increased risk of exposure due to significant travel for parenting time exchanges or the type of employment of one or both parents. Such fears have caused some parents to violate custody orders to “protect” their children.
As the consequences of the virus have brought us into uncharted territory, courts are now faced with difficult decisions without the benefit of similar precedent. One contentious issue courts must now decide is whether – given each parent’s unique circumstances – the coronavirus presents such a threat to a child’s best interests such that custody or parenting time should be modified.
In New Jersey, a party seeking to modify the custody arrangement must meet the high burden of showing a substantial change in circumstances and that the arrangement is not in the best interests of a child. Under New Jersey law (N.J.S.A. 9:2-4(c)), the several mandatory factors courts must consider in weighing the best interests of a child include:
- The parents’ ability to agree, communicate and cooperate in matters relating to the child;
- The needs of the child;
- The stability of the home environment offered;
- The quality and continuity of the child’s education;
- The fitness of the parents;
- The geographical proximity of the parents’ homes; and
- The parents’ employment responsibilities.
Each of the above factors may be applicable to your unique circumstances of how the coronavirus has affected your custody and parenting time arrangement. If the coronavirus has affected your custody arrangement or ability to co-parent in the best interests of your child, we are here to help navigate you through this difficult time.