Do I need a pandemic clause added to my divorce or custody agreement?

Your day-to-day life may have changed, but the law is the same.

We doubt that even the most forward-thinking couple could have predicted the possible need for a pandemic clause in their separation, custody, or parenting agreement.

Like our peers across the country, since March of 2020 we have been fielding calls from clients trying to deal with a myriad of changes to their life as everyone went in and out of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some clients were unable to make child support or alimony payments due to layoffs and furloughs. For others, disruptions in custody and visitation schedules were brought on by school and daycare closings and re-openings, or one parent limiting access to the children by the other parent due to differences in opinion about social distancing, masks, and fear of contamination. 

This pandemic threw a huge curveball to families everywhere, but it did not suddenly negate current custody, visitation, or support orders. The Connecticut family courts gradually reopened for remote and then some in-person hearings, with urgent safety situations taking precedence over non-emergency modifications and contempt actions. This delay meant some families did not get the immediate court-ordered solution to their problems they were hoping for. Some voluntarily changed their visitation schedules so the number of exchanges between households was reduced in an effort to keep everyone healthy. Others used their unemployment supplement to make partial support payments. The number of coparents who have reached out to each other and negotiated more flexible arrangements is very encouraging.

Even as vaccine distribution begins, because of new strains of the virus surfacing, many Connecticut families may be facing a return to some form of lockdown. Based on what we have experienced this past year, we and our clients will likely alter how we design custody and coparenting plans in the future. For example: naming a temporary guardian if both parents fall ill, defining how a visitation schedule can be adapted for remote learning, and having a plan if someone gets sick.

But for those couples who are prone to always disagree with each other, the “new normal” has introduced fresh reasons to argue: remote learning vs. returning to the classroom, using the idea of potential contamination to try to keep their children away from their former spouse’s dating partner or other family members, and refusing to pay child support because of decreased visitation.

Does an otherwise sustainable parenting plan warrant filing a motion for contempt? Usually, all that is needed is a frank conversation about what is best for the children and negotiating a new schedule. Failing that, consider engaging an experienced family law mediator to help you and your former partner navigate a modification to your agreement that takes the “new normal” into account. We can help, call our office today: 860-677-5885.