Divorce represents a monumentally life-changing event for not only spouses who are moving on to new lives but also the children left wondering what the future holds for them. Seemingly, in a split second, one household becomes two, and a new dynamic takes shape.
Custody agreements usually include specific schedules for parents to have quality time with their children, an essential factor, particularly early on following the divorce. Whether it involves alternate weekends or weekdays, the relationship between parent and child is paramount for kids during these uncertain times.
The impact of relocation
Whether it involves a new job or a remarriage, some parents think it is best to relocate with their children to a different state, far away from their ex-spouses. Suddenly, the all-important access is at risk, not to mention the routines of attending athletic contests, dance recitals, and parent-teacher conferences.
Under normal circumstances, parents seeking that “fresh start” could not just pick up stakes and move. However, the initial months of 2020 saw a deadly virus spreading across the United States. Family law courtrooms were shuttered and struggled to adapt to Zoom technology. The backlog ballooned to borderline unmanageable levels due to shut down orders and sheltering in place mandates.
Regardless, the court takes the parent-child relationship seriously. In practically all relocation cases, they need permission from the court or the other parent’s approval. Then, COVID-19 breached the border of the United States. Some parents wanting to move away with their children saw the new dynamic as an opportunity to sidestep the legal process.
Exploiting a crisis
Many parents took advantage of a worldwide pandemic and moved without seeking permission from a judge or the other parent. Anything resembling an order to return children to their home state immediately became the exception and not the rule as courtrooms piled on more and more cases to their backlog. The “will” was there. The “way” had far too many obstacles in front of it.
Parental rights seemed to become secondary during the worldwide health crisis. The long-established Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction and Enforcement Act (UCCJEA), adopted by every state in the nation, defines a child’s home state as one they have lived in for six months. Parents who took their children away from their old home state were likely trying to establish a new home state, knowing that the multitude of cases piling up in family court would probably last the half-year necessary to qualify.
Florida’s child custody law mandates that a parent must have approval for moves more than 50 miles away. Not only will the child be forced to return, but the sudden action could play a role in future custody determinations. With restrictions continuing to loosen, playing “catch-up” is paramount, not to mention holding ex-spouses accountable for their actions.
Parents who played by the rules still experience their own coronavirus-related challenges. Disagreements often occur when it comes to everything from the food they eat to the discipline they receive. While they may agree on their children’s best interests, not to mention their safety during the pandemic, petty disputes can get in the way of cooperation and open lines of communication.
The health crisis brought challenges to the most basic of routines. The need to physically distance may force one or both parents to reconsider how they share time with their children with a virus that continues to sicken and kill people of all ages.
Adaptability for safety’s sake
With the new school year, a certain level of uncertainty remains as to children returning to their respective educational institutions. While they may walk through the doors on day one, no guarantee exists that the more traditional education environment will remain, particularly if COVID-19 cases begin to rise significantly.
The homeschooling conundrum and other issues could see a child spending time with one parent over the other based on the following:
- The parent who is able to be at home and provide the support “homeschooling” children need
- The quality of the parent’s internet service used for education and online interaction with the other parent
- Access to outdoor spaces that allow children to play and exercise while adhering to distancing
- A parent with a “customer-facing” job that sees more contact with the public, potentially putting others in the home at risk
- An occupant of the home who is categorized in a high-risk group because of age, medical conditions, or immunocompromised
For divorced parents, open lines of communication are key to finding solutions to problems. Keeping score only undermines the relationship and helps the minutia grow into significant issues. Adaptability is vital, whether it involves co-parenting or COVID restrictions. At best, the current situation is temporary. Getting through it as a family is critical.
The best interests of children of divorce are never more important than when it comes to relocation cases. Their world was already turned around when their parents separated. New and unfamiliar surroundings combined with reduced access to a parent can only make a difficult situation that much worse.