Common Questions About Divorce and Child Visitation During ‘Shelter in Place’

As we get deeper into the “shelter in place” requirement imposed by Governor Murphy, stress is more present in our lives every day. Being house-bound is frustrating on so many levels. Couples who are in difficult marriages, or who are going through a divorce (regardless of whether they are separated or living together) face much greater stress on a day-to-day basis while sheltering in place, or while managing things like the exchange of children for parenting time.

I have some basic points of advice for those of you who are contemplating divorce but have not yet taken action, as well as for those of you who have a divorce case which is active. You are both facing the same types of problems which have been aggravated by the onset of the coronavirus crisis.

Here are some practical tips to help you through these challenging times:

  1. Question: Do I have to release the children for parenting time during the coronavirus crisis? The simple answer is that you have to comply with any court orders in place. If you believe that the other parent has been reckless in exposing the children unnecessarily during parenting time, then an emergency application can be made to the court for a change in parenting time.
  2. Question: I don’t have a divorce case pending. What do I do if I am separated and the other parent shows up wanting the kids for parenting time? In that case, you have to use your judgment as to whether the other parent will be responsible. If you have significant doubts, the probably the children should not be released.
  3. Question: What role do the police play in a dispute about the release of the children? Local police are trained in how to handle domestic disputes such as when parents can not agree whether the children should be released to the other parent, for parenting time outside of their home. One basic and constituent fact is the police will always ask if there is a court order or written agreement in place which determines when and for how long the children will go with the other parent for parenting time, and when one exists, they will advise the custodial parent that the order or agreement has to be followed. If there is no order or written agreement in place (because no divorce case has been initiated), the police will generally do their best to convince the parents to do what is best for the children, but they will not force the custodial parent to release the children.
  4. Question: What happens if there is an act of physical violence or serious threat of harm made at any time, regardless of whether we are living together or living apart? A person who is harmed or threatened has the right to call the local police and request the issuance of a temporary restraining order, which will prevent the spouse who made the threats or acted violently from having any further contact with the victim and the children until the matter comes before a court for a hearing, which usually occurs within a week to ten days. With the courts not conducting in-person proceedings for the foreseeable future, that week to ten day period could extend much farther. If the act occurs during the hours of 8:30 to 3:00, the police will probably direct the victim to go to the courthouse in the county where the act occurred, to apply for the temporary restraining order, but if the act occurs in the evening or early morning hours, the police will call the municipal judge and request the issuance of the temporary restraining order.

The basic rule to follow is to put aside feelings about the other spouse and do what is right for the children, who need both parents in their lives.

My practice is dedicated to Family Law, including divorce and representation of clients involved in domestic violence proceedings. If I can be of assistance, please contact me at 908-598-8525.

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