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Divorced couples navigating custody arrangements amid COVID-19 concerns

Parents working things out without court hearings, for the most part
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Posted at 1:09 PM, Mar 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-19 20:39:09-04

INDIANAPOLIS — Coronavirus concerns are making things especially tough on divorced parents who are trying to navigate co-parenting and custody arrangements.

Kelly Hage is a divorced mother with two children.

She lives near Ft. Benjamin Harrison, close to her ex-husband, whom she shares 50/50 custody.

"Being divorced in this situation takes a lot more coordinating, I think than for families who are in the same home," said Hage. "We are just taking it day by day."

Kelly's ex-husband recently had surgery and was hospitalized for months, so they're trying to make sure everyone stays healthy and honor their parenting arrangement.

They typically swap every couple of days, but that's difficult amid coronavirus concerns.

"We have a custody schedule to adhere to, but also two different households," said Kelly Hage. "So there's a whole lot of exposure and the risk of him being exposed to something from our children. We don't want the kids to bring the germs home from school. There's a lack of control."

Many family law and paternity courts in Indiana are only accommodating emergency hearings right now.

Family law attorney Cassie Ringlespaugh said she's been busy with parent concerns amid coronavirus, and she's telling clients to expect delays.

"Now is the time to put aside petty differences and put the safety of kiddos and their families and the community first," said Ringlespaugh. "I think we're going to see a lot of issues come up and figure out what can be resolved between the parents and didn't ever need to see a court."

Ringlespaugh said parents should stick to their existing court order, but also be flexible.

"In the event of quarantine, the parent should forgo parenting time until the quarantine ends," said Ringlespaugh. "Be reasonable in working together and flexible in providing makeup parenting time."

Divorced parents should come up with a safety plan together in advance and take into account that traveling may have to be limited due to restrictions in place.

"Parents should consider who is the custodial parent, if either parent or family member has been exposed to the virus or displaying symptoms if there are more vulnerable individuals in the household, which household better facilitates frequent contact with the other parent through skype or facetime, and which parent can be available for care and monitoring e-learning," said Ringlespaugh. "Parents should be using common sense and agree on where a child will remain in the event; it no longer makes sense to abide by the court order for safety purposes. Parents should be communicating work schedules and transparent with symptom spotting or potential exposure."

Kelly Hage is thankful she and her ex-husband get along.

"We have a good relationship," said Kelly Hage. "It wasn't always that way."

But she realizes many divorced parents aren't there yet.

"It's already hard to be a divorced parent, it's already hard to co-parent," said Hage. "Right now, the most important thing is putting my kids first, and I know my ex feels the same way. Parents who are going through this are just going to have to take it day by day and put their kids at the forefront of what's going on."

Marion County Circuit Court paternity cases have been continued through April 3 and at this time are only accommodating emergency hearings once they get set up with video conferencing.

"This is a very fluid situation, and we are working diligently to get remote access for emergency hearings done and set up as soon as possible," said Judge Sheryl Lynch.

Superior court judge Heather Welch told RTV6 with regarding family law; they're only holding emergency hearings and are also using video conferencing.

Welch said they have 80 judicial officers and hundreds of staff that they're trying to get to work as remotely as possible; however, they only have a certain number of court-issued laptops.

"I've done family law for 19 years, and now is the time to work together," said Welch.