Without access to courts, divorced parents must cooperate more
Posted April 1, 2020 7:18 p.m. EDT
While nothing is normal – businesses closed, school days canceled – families are trying to keep things as routine as possible for young children. That can be especially tricky where the parents are divorced and children live under a court-issued custody and visitation order.
Family courts in Wake County and across the state are closed with the exception of true emergencies. Family attorneys say, now more than ever, divorced parents need to work together.
"We're still following our custody agreement, we're keeping to the schedule," said Mark LeSaint, father of Audrey, 12, and Nora, 7.
His daughters are still bouncing back and forth between their parents thanks to collaboration and jobs that allow them to work from home.
"Right now, we're both working together," he said. "I think if one of us found out we got exposed, I think there would be at least a conversation about, 'Hey, how do you want to handle this?'"
That is an eventuality that family law attorney Alice Stubbs said parents can plan for.
"We're encouraging parents to make arrangements in advance, in case a child or parent gets infected," she said.
Calls to Stubbs' office have increased in recent weeks.
"We're getting more calls than ever about new issues," she said. "This is unprecedented territory."
Stubbs says the statewide stay-at-home order allows for parents to comply with child visitation.
"I'm advising my clients (that) unless there's something unusual, they need to work with the co-parent and make sure those visits occur," she said.
Stubbs says parents need to put differences aside and be flexible on things like drop-off times and locations. She also recommends putting plans in writing, like email.
"Some parents are doing a great job working through this, others not so well," she said.
LeSaint sees the logic in that.
"We gotta do what we gotta do to keep them safe, and working together is the only way to get it done," he said.
Attorneys say visitation should remain the same if possible unless one parent has traveled or works outside the home and is concerned about exposure.
Because all routine custody hearings have been postponed, parents can expect a big backlog of cases when the family courts re-open. For now, attorneys are trying to mediate issues with their clients through online meetings.