With families of divorce, summer is often a time that kids spend significant amounts of time with non-primary custodial parents. Even in an ordinary summer, extended visits with that parent are often accompanied with anxiety and trepidation. Parents worry: Will her father make sure she does her summer school work? His mother won’t give him his medications. He does not worry about Sarah’s allergies. Where will they be staying? I need to know! The kids have their own concerns: Will I get to see my friends? I don’t like it there. Why do I have to go? These are but a few of the many concerns those families lawyers like myself hear at the launch of summer vacation, year in and year out.
This year – 2020 – brings no ordinary summer. All across the country, academic years were suspended, and then cut short. Families from California to Florida were forced into some sort of “stay at home” order. Courts are closed throughout the nation. The statistics regarding cases and deaths related to COVID-19 increase every day, even now, months into this pandemic. It is not surprising that divorced parents have disagreements and that many of those disagreements center around their children. As such, levels of anxiety have inherently increased as the summer of 2020 approaches.
In many jurisdictions, courts have issued overall edicts that parties are to comply with existing orders regarding visitation, regardless of the COVID-19 outbreak. Like most “general orders”, those edicts are simply inappropriate and often just plain unfair for many children and their families. Any number of potential situations comes to mind. What happens where a child has been sick or even exposed to the virus? Should she have to go to her mother’s house despite an existing order that provides mother with four weeks of summer visitation? Dad lives in California and his son is supposed to be put on an airplane to fly there from his home in Maryland? Should the child be put at risk by travelling through an airport and on the plane from one coast to the other just so Dad can exercise his visitation?
I am reminded of a great quote that I heard some time ago from Jodi Picoult, a best selling fiction author: “The answer is that there is no good answer. So as parents, as doctors, as judges and as a society we fumble through and make decisions that allow us to sleep at night because morals are more important than ethics and love is more important than law.”
That may or may not be helpful. What I can say to parents is that the best thing you can do, when trying to balance health and safety with court orders and obligations is to find a family lawyer whose judgment you trust, give them a call and discuss your situation and get some advice. Do your best. No one gave any of us lessons in how to handle the myriad of issues that have been presented to us when considering COVID-19 and its impact on summer visitation.
David Bulitt is a shareholder in the law firm of Joseph, Greenwald & Laake, PA, in suburban Maryland. A father of four, he focuses on all areas of family law. A published author, Bulitt’s most recent book, THE FIVE CORE CONVERSATIONS FOR COUPLES was published in February, 2020 and is co-authored with his wife, a family therapist.