WASHINGTON — Sheltering in place during the pandemic is difficult when you’re living, working and schooling in the same location with your family. Add in the complexities of divorce, blended families and economic uncertainty, and the pressure goes up further. Some experts predict there will be a rise in divorce when the pandemic ends.
Carlos Lastra, co-chair of the Family Law practice at Paley Rothman in Bethesda, Md., says the Coronavirus pandemic is wreaking havoc on divorced and blended families. He chatted with Kristen Berset-Harris, Host of Great Day Washington, about the challenges of COVID-19 on divorced and blended families and what couples can do to co-exist.
Berset-Harris: What makes the Coronavirus pandemic so challenging for divorced and blended families?
Lastra: As we know, this is a difficult and unprecedented time, and with divorce, the challenge doubles because you have agreements that have been reached regarding alimony, child support, and custody. Right now, those agreements may not be practical because work, school and life have changed. Then adding to the mix, are people who don’t get along on good days.
Berset-Harris: What guidance are the courts providing?
Lastra: The courts are closed, so you can’t rush to court for emergency orders. The courts are providing us with guidance. First, just because courts are closed, agreements remain in effect. When there are disagreements, the courts are urging couples to communicate. They also want them to be flexible and to use common sense. With millions of people having lost their jobs or hours and filing for unemployment, I am advising my clients to still pay any part of their alimony and child support payments that they can. The other parent still needs the support and the courts will appreciate the goodwill shown.
Berset-Harris: How is Coronavirus impacting custody arrangements?
Lastra: Coronavirus is throwing custody agreements into turmoil. What if a child is with one parent and the other parent gets sick and the parent wants to keep children until the other parent recovers? Does that parent get a pass on the normal time when they’re required to turn the child back over to the other parent?
What if one parent lets the children go outside to play without a face mask, or the children fall behind in school due to online classes, or if a child gets sick? One parent can accuse the other of “not doing enough to protect my children” and not taking sufficient precautions.
In family law, the primary standard is what is in the best interest of the children. That’s what should prevail.
Berset-Harris: Will we see a spike in the number of divorces once we’re past the pandemic?
Lastra: Following stressful events like the Coronavirus situation, we often see a surge in divorce filings, as has been reported in China, because couples realize they just don’t want to remain married to this person any longer.
For couples whose marriages are on shaky footing this might push them over the cliff.
There could be a silver lining.
For others, this may be the rallying cry and a defining moment for couples that strengthens bonds and gives them an opportunity to fortify their relationship and they come out of this more united than before.