Hindsight of the year 2020 is truly “20/20” and as we start understanding the economic and social impact of the past year, we can now better work to recognize the impact of the pandemic on families.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, we at Van Oorschot Law Group, PC and other lawyers, have been discussing about how separated parents might navigate parenting during the pandemic. In those early days, no one knew that nearly a year later we would still be subject to stay-at-home orders, on-again/off-again school closures and parents remotely working from home.
The quote “a family that plays together stays together” got turned on its head this past year, as families were no doubt “together” but there was not a whole lot of playing going on. This mandated close proximity brought a lot of introspection and closeness for some families this past year but, this is not the case for all families.
Divorce on the Rise. Many published reports tell us that divorce is on the rise as a result of the pandemic. This is not a surprise. Historically, many struggling marriages were masked by busy lives of work and children whereby parents saw each other for a few waking hours a day. This made it easier to stay together, especially for the sake of the children. But, when the struggle of marriage and family is front and center every waking hour of the day during the pandemic, the ability to cope is harder, leading to the calling of quits on the marriage sooner than may have occurred in pre-pandemic days.
The Pandemic’s Effect on Custody. Before the pandemic, most parents had their designated roles in the family, maybe with one parent working outside the home; the other working at home but with more daily parenting duties than the other. In families where one parent had primary parenting responsibility, a very common assumption (and often reality) is that the parent with the greater parenting responsibilities maintained this role after the divorce and therefore would have greater custodial time with the children.
However, this past year turned everything on its head including the parenting duties for most parents. This means that the dynamic (and past status quo for many) of one parent working outside the home and the other having greater parenting responsibilities ceased to exist. Thus, the longstanding assumption that one parent will have more custodial time with the children after divorce may no longer be the case because parenting roles were heavily disrupted and a new status quo in many families was created by virtue of the pandemic. Indeed, for many families, while the pandemic may have caused or accelerated the divorce, it also created more engaged parenting. Arguably, this is a big benefit to the children.
The Flip Side. While the pandemic gave rise to many parents having equal opportunity to be engaged with their children, there were some parents that, riddled with the dissatisfaction of the marriage, withdrew from parenting altogether. While time will tell, the parent who withdrew from parenting (when parenting was needed more than ever in terms of effort and time), could face negative ramifications during the divorce when attempting to claim that they should have higher levels of custodial time with the children after a divorce.
The Chips Have Fallen. As families work to readjust and look forward to this next phase of the pandemic, and hopefully starting to take steps to return to some semblance of normalcy in the world, parents and lawyers will be closely examining how parents parented in 2020, during the worse social and economic crisis of our lifetimes. This very macro experience will no doubt be examined during each and every custody matter and will impact all families that move to the next phase of divorce.