Smiling african American young dad sit on couch hug cute little daughter chatting or talking, happy black father spend time having conversation with funny preschooler child, enjoy weekend together

How do I make sure my children are staying “Healthy at Home” when they have two households?

Due to the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), Governor Andy Beshear has declared a state of emergency in the state of Kentucky and issued Executive Orders that require Kentuckians to stay “healthy at home” and restrict out-of-state travel.

For separated or divorced families who share custody and parenting time with children, remaining healthy at home, in a single household, is more difficult and it raises important questions about how custody and parenting time orders operate during this time of uncertainty.

On March 7, 2020, the Supreme Court of Kentucky entered an Order offering guidance to families in shared custody and parenting time situations. Parents should follow their custody and parenting time court order during the state of emergency. Governor Beshear’s Executive Order regarding out-of-state travel permits travel to occur if such travel is required by a court order. Thus, if a custody or parenting time order requires a parent and the children to travel out of state, this is permitted.

If either parent, or someone in either household, has tested positive or has been exposed to the virus, the person making the discovery should immediately notify the other parent. Parenting time in that household should be suspended for a period of fourteen (14) days.

If following the custody or parenting time order presents considerable risk, the parents should work cooperatively to find an alternative solution that will allow parenting time to be exercised. Although all civil dockets have been cancelled until at least May 31, 2020, parents can, and should, file a written agreement signed by both parents, or electronically file an Emergency Petition to Modify their existing orders. It is within a judge’s discretion whether any specific case qualifies as an emergency and you should speak with an Attorney to help you determine whether your specific circumstances could qualify.

Under normal circumstances, transitions can be difficult for children and can cause a child to experience sadness or anxiety. The current pandemic is undoubtedly causing increased anxiety in children and these feelings could be exacerbated during times of transition. It remains important that children spend time with both of their parents and the pandemic alone should not be used as an excuse for denying parenting time. Parents should be flexible, work cooperatively and make arrangements that allow their child(ren) to remain safely with each parent. Research shows that children do best when parents help their children have regular contact with the other parent, maintain a predictable schedule, communicate about rules and discipline, and communicate respectfully with each other. The American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers. Child Centered Residential Guidelines. AAML, 2015.

Some things that co-parents can do during this time to help lessen both their anxiety about the other parent and the anxiety of their children:

  • Follow all CDC, state, and local guidelines in regard to social distancing, frequent hand washing, and remaining healthy at home and communicate the steps you are taking to reduce your, and your children’s risk, to your co-parent;
  • Facilitate regular communication between your child(ren) and your co-parent through electronic means (facetime, zoom, skype, telephone, etc) if you both agree that the child(ren) should not be at the home with the other co-parent. In these situations, it may be helpful to get creative about the ways in which you connect with your children: sharing movies, books, games, and writing letters are just a few examples;
  • Be mindful with your communications with your co-parent and keep your discussions child-focused;
  • Be transparent with your co-parent. If you suspect you have been exposed to COVID-19, you should provide your co-parent with honest information. If a child exhibits symptom you should notify your co-parent immediately;

Emily T. Cecconi

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