The Impact of COVID-19 on Child Custody
CHILD CUSTODY IN MICHIGAN DURING THE CORONAVIRUS
For most parents it is very stressful to deal with the issues of their children’s custody and visitation. They already experience a lot of stress because their relationship ended and their children are stressed. All these issues are aggravated during the Covid-19 crisis when parents and children must stay home, the family’s financial situation is probably tense, and tempers flare. Before problems escalate, a consultation with a Grand Rapids family law firm is strongly encouraged.
DURING THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK, PARENTS NEED AN EXPERIENCED GRAND RAPIDS CHILD CUSTODY LAWYER MORE THAN EVER BEFORE
When divorcing or separating parents need a child custody order for the first time, we work closely with our clients to develop visitation plans that specifically consider the current Covid-19 restrictions, such as closed schools, parents working from home, limited travel options, and shelter-in-place orders. During the Covid-19 outbreak, parents in need of a child custody order need an experienced child custody attorney more than ever. After nearly three decades of providing West Michigan parents with child custody services, our firm has the experience to consider the ever-changing rules and restrictions and incorporate the government’s restrictions in a child custody order.
Some parents will need to establish a child custody order for the first time, other West Michigan parents will need their child custody order changed due to the Coronavirus outbreak. If your former spouse or partner is not able to appropriately parent your children while the children are full time at home, requiring online or home schooling or when tensions or violence rise due to a shelter-in-place requirement, or a job loss, a change of custody or change in visitation may be required. Our experienced Grand Rapids child custody attorneys can provide video and telephone appointments during the shelter-in-place and we are able to continue to request a court to decide a parent’s child custody petition.
WHAT IS STILL THE SAME REGARDING CHILD CUSTODY DURING THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK
You still are a parent to your children. Your children still need your love and care. They need it every day. Now more than ever.
Just because it is a pandemic, you may not deny parenting time.
You still need to co-parent with your former spouse or partner. The Michigan Supreme Court issued an order reminding parents to consider their specific situation and if their current custody order cannot be followed during the outbreak, parents should try and negotiate a different schedule.
The Michigan Supreme Court issued an order that all custody orders will stay in effect. The same is true for visitation and child support orders. Some parents may ignore the valid court order or will not work together to make accommodations during the virus outbreak. If your former spouse or partner disobeys the court order or will not agree to any workable alternatives, parents must request the court for a modification of the custody order. The attorneys at Kraayeveld Law can help.
WHAT HAS CHANGED REGARDING CHILD CUSTODY DURING THE CORONAVIRUS
During the Coronavirus outbreak, nearly all parents and children need to adjust. West Michigan courts have made adjustments. You should expect most of the physical buildings to be closed, at least for parents wanting to file documents in person. Most of the hearings are canceled as well. Some hearings will be heard via telephone or video feed: or, what seems to occur most often, the dispute may be decided based on the attorneys’ written pleadings.
Similarly, most of the Friend of the Court offices will be closed as well, preventing parents from filing custody or parenting time violation complaints in person.
The child custody attorneys at Kraayeveld Law have been in frequent communication with the judges in West Michigan. Judges in the West Michigan area have allowed us to continue filing new custody cases and request modifications of existing custody orders.
STEPS TO SECURE OR CHANGE CUSTODY DURING THE COVID-19 OUTBREAK
In most cases, parents should take the usual steps to establish child custody for the first time or when they need to change custody. Some of the steps we outlined are to document your involvement, focus on providing a stable environment, become involved with your child’s life, anticipate the other parent’s strategy, stay civil, and be prepared.
Michigan law provides “best interest” factors to be considered when determining custody. Those factors have remained the same during the Covid-19 outbreak and are:
- The “love, affection, and other emotional ties” that exist between the parents and their children
- Each parent’s “capacity and disposition” to provide their children with love, affection, and guidance
- Each parent’s “capacity and disposition” to provide their children with food, clothing and medical care and meet their children’s other material needs
- Each parent’s moral fitness
- Each parent’s mental and physical health
- Each parent’s “willingness and ability” to facilitate and encourage a close and continuing parent-child relationship between the child and the other parent
- The length of time the children have lived in a stable environment and the desirability of maintaining continuity
- The “permanence, as a family unit, of the existing or proposed custodial home or homes”
- The children’s home, school and community records
- Each child’s “reasonable preference,” if the child is old enough to express such a preference
- Any history of domestic violence targeting any child or the other spouse
During the Coronavirus outbreak, the court will look at different situations regarding each of these factors. For example, when school was in session, a judge would have reviewed which parent was more able and willing to bring the children to school on time. During the Covid-19 outbreak, a judge will consider which parent will help the children with their lesson plans at home.
If a parent believes that a child custody order should be changed during the Covid-19 outbreak, the parent will need to petition the court for a modification of the custody order. Only if a change in circumstances occurred or proper cause exists will the judge consider evidence about a change in custody. A change in circumstances occurs when “since the entry of the last custody order, the conditions surrounding the custody of the child, which have or could have a significant effect on the child’s well-being, have materially changed”. The judge will not even consider a parent’s request to change custody if that parent does not show to the court that something significant has changed.
DOES SHELTER-IN-PLACE CAUSE A CHANGE IN CIRCUMSTANCES?
Michigan law requires that you must show a change in circumstances that is more than just the normal changes in a child’s life. The virus itself would not provide a change in circumstances that would allow you to ask for your child’s custody order to be changed. However, the effects of the Covid-19 outbreak, such as an increase in domestic violence, a parent’s failure to assist with schoolwork, a parent’s inability to provide daily care while the children are not in school or daycare, would be some examples that could be considered a change in circumstances.
When a parent can establish that a change in circumstances exists, then the parent may proceed with the request to change in custody. Just because a change in circumstances exists does not mean that the court will automatically change custody.
WHAT HAPPENS IN CASE OF EMERGENCY?
There are some situations that require a judge to review the child custody order immediately. With most court buildings closed for regular business, it is difficult for parents to ask a court for emergency relief. The Grand Rapids child custody attorneys at Kraayeveld Law are still able to request judges for emergency relief, and especially during the Covid-19 outbreak, some parents need such relief.
With schools not being in session and Michigan’s Shelter-in-Place order in effect, tensions rise for Michigan parents. Reports from China suggest that there will be a significant spike in domestic violence during the coronavirus outbreak. When you learn that your child has witnessed Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) or is the victim of domestic violence, you will need to request immediate relief.
When you learn that your child is being exposed to someone with the Covid-19 virus, you will need emergency relief and request to have the child removed from that home. Our attorneys can help immediately and petition the court for emergency relief.
MICHIGAN COURTS DURING SOCIAL-DISTANCING
The Friend of the Court’s offices are closed for parents needing to file a parenting time violation complaint form. Court buildings are also closed and court have to give permission for parents to file a motion in person. Each court and many judges have created policies how they will handle their cases. Hearings are postponed, sometimes cases are decided with a telephone or video conference and many cases are decided based upon the parties’ written documents.
With court buildings and clerk’s offices mostly closed, parents can no longer visit their local Legal Assistance Center to obtain forms and file them in person at the clerk’s office.
When judges decide child custody issues based on the written motions and responses filed by the parents, it is very important to provide the judge with documents that comply with the court rules and rules of evidence so that the judge will review all your evidence and arguments. Please call the Michigan child custody attorneys at Kraayeveld Law at 616-285-0808 or contact us online to speak with an attorney when you need to petition the court regarding a change in child custody. Our family law firm is fully up and running.