Sounds like the making of a bad movie, right? Unfortunately, these are struggles that many families are dealing with in our country today. According the news, it appears that 80% of Americans (as of March 31, 2020) are under some form of stay at home orders. Some of these Orders, (North Carolina particularly) have clear directives that custodial exchanges and visitations are not being stopped under the stay at home order. However, we have families who have competing Orders from the military that have much stricter rules and restrictions that do not seem to have the same exception as North Carolina’s state wide stay at home Order.
I have heard of several different Orders coming down from military chains of command. Each base, each command has different restrictions. For instance, one base has issued an Order that no military personnel can leave the base, at all. Another has restricted travel for active duty and their families to 100 miles from the base. While others have gone as far as to say that military personnel and their families can not leave base and if they do, they can not return.
What do all of these conflicting orders and directives mean for blended families who are also under a court order for custody and visitation? It means that co-parenting and keeping your children as the primary focus of your communication is more important now than ever before. If you are the parent who is required to remain on base and you CAN NOT leave to perform exchanges, then talk to the other parent, make a plan for make up days when the restrictions are lifted, make a plan to allow for liberal and frequent facetime between the other parent and the children, involve the other parent in every day issues like homework and social distancing, stay completely open about your children’s educational needs and health care needs in the event that they (or you) get sick, involve the other parent in all school activities (homework, what are they reading, what are they watching, etc). This is a scary time for our kids as well as us adults, we must work together to make sure that we are not adding stress to their lives by ignoring their need to have a loving relationship with their other parent.
If you are the parent that is unable to exercise visitation or custody because of a military order that prohibits your co-parent from doing the exchange, then be patient, be vigilant and be attentive. Call your children; facetime with them often; send them cards in the mail; research activities you can do with them at a distance; help with their homework and get creative. Be present even at a distance.
If the military orders allow for some movement, then try to find creative ways to allow visitations to occur. If that means that the non-military parent must travel further to allow the other parent to stay within the military issued radius, then do so. If the traveling parent must then not remove the child from a 100-mile radius, then help them to find lodging nearby or find somewhere that they can enjoy a little one on one time with the children. I can not stress it enough that the importance here is to have a strong and healthy co-parenting relationship.
If the military orders do NOT prohibit custodial exchanges, then follow the Court Order. Let me say that again…follow the court order! Most families are not going to have a significant impact from these orders and should honor the Court Order as much as possible. The court is going to be hearing a tremendous amount of cases where parents did not follow their Orders when court is back in session. You will not want to be the parent who did not show a willingness to co-parent in the best interests of your children during a national crisis. Put the kids first, your wants and needs second. Always.
Stay safe out there and please let us know if you have any other questions about this or any other custodial matters during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are here for you, always!
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