Challenges for parents sharing child custody during coronavirus crisis

BOSTON — Parents across the nation are being encouraged to practice social distancing.

But for those who co-parent from different households, there are challenges that contradict some of the advice coming from health officials.

Family lawyers across Massachusetts and across the country are inundated with calls from anxious parents, worried that moving children between two households could increase the chance of catching and spreading coronavirus.

Right now, parents who do not comply with court-ordered custody agreements could be held in contempt.

“How do I morally send my child into this world when we’re being told the complete opposite?” said one concerned Essex county mother.

One mother in Essex County who asked not to be identified due to the sensitive custody situation, said the family court system is forcing her to continue sending her 3-year-old daughter out of the house for a weekly supervised visit with the child’s father.

“He’s really adamant about wanting his time, and I’ve offered to just FaceTime during this time,” she said. “To then put daughter in a situation where she has to experience that… and possibly pick something up, it’s terrifying.”

She says she’s not only anxious about the potential of her daughter being exposed to COVID-19, but also the risk of her child bringing it back home where they live with two elderly family members.

“It’s upsetting that I’m being forced to be put in this situation where I have to put my family in harm’s way,” she said.

Divorce and family attorney Andy Miller encourages those who co-parent to calmly communicate their concerns, and try to work together now more than ever.

“These are -- in effect -- these are orders and they haven’t been suspended,” Miller said. “Rather than just coming at it as ‘I don’t want you to see our child’ I would strongly encourage, ‘Can we have a discussion about this?’”

“We need to differentiate between hypothetical risk and real risk,” Miller said. “The courts are not closed but they’re only hearing really significant emergencies.”

Miller and other attorneys we’ve been talking with said the courts being frozen to regular business also applies to the noticeable increase in calls they’ve been getting from those asking about filing for divorce.

Even when court is back up and running as usual, a backlog in cases in expected to delay things further.

MORE: Baker extends statewide school, non-emergency childcare program closures through end of April