Joshua Rieger
Rieger, LLP
April 2020
3 Min Read

Divorce and Separation Issues in the Age of a Pandemic

Over the last several weeks our entire way life has been turned on its head due to the outbreak of the Corona Virus.   As businesses and schools closed, virtually everyone retreated into and secluded themselves in their homes.  Besides from virtual work and schooling, most people have used this “Quarantine” to spend time with their spouses and children, watching movies, playing games, hiking, bike riding – growing even closer as a unit.

But what of those family units that are no longer intact?  What if one is divorced or going through a divorce…how should visitation be handled during “social distancing”? Is child support and maintenance on hold due to the stalled economy and unprecedented unemployment?

With the New York State Court System essentially shuddered except in cases of “extreme emergency” such as Orders of Protection, how to handle this current situation is left in the hands of matrimonial/family law practitioners and the litigants themselves with varying degrees of success.

Some examples of issues that have arisen in my practice include:

  • An older person vulnerable to exposure may live in one parent’s home. Should a vulnerable grandparent be exposed to the child? How does this affect  sharing the children?
  • One of the parents may have an autoimmune disease. Should the child leave the home and risk coming back carrying the virus, exposing the parent?
  • A non-custodial parent may get laid off or his or her income is substantially reduced. How does that affect child support?
  • Child support agreements often requires parents to share in the costs of summer camp. What if one parent refuses to pay, arguing that camps may be canceled?
  • What does one do if the monied spouse refuses to pay maintenance or child support?
  • If a parent withholds access to a child, how can one enforce visitation?
  • How do parents resolve differences over limits each may want to place on the children’s exposure to playmates, other family members or activities?

Myself, as well as my colleagues, have been encouraging our clients to be fair to each other and continue visitation.  However, in cases where one parent or family member may be at risk due to pre-existing conditions or age, we have urged caution, expressing to those folks that health is priority number one.

If one parent is unable to have physical visitation with their child during this time, I have encouraged them to request or offer generous virtual access, through programs such as FaceTime or Zoom, as well as “make-up” visitation once normality resumes.  What one does now will be remembered and appreciated beyond the duration of “social distancing.”

There will be those, however, that will inevitably take advantage of the current situation, either by unreasonably withholding physical and/or virtual access to their children as well as financial support.  In those situations, I have advised my clients, that once the Courts return to somewhat normal capacity, there will be a day of reckoning and justice will return to the system.