Shared Custody Raises COVID-19 Issues as Children Journey Between Households for Holidays – NBC4 Washington
Although many Americans skip the big Thanksgiving dinner this year, many families will have their youngest members traveling between households. Millions of children split their time between parents every week and even more so during the holidays, but concerns about COVID-19 can make this time even more stressful.
Making decisions about how to deal with pandemic precautions is difficult for any family. However, add parents who couldn’t agree on much when they were together – with research identifying children as silent propagators – and families can have a real battle.
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“It’s an impossible situation,” said Ann Wyborski, a Fairfax County mom, who said her family went into full lockdown mode in March when the pandemic hit.
She worries about how COVID-19 would affect her young boy with asthma and her teenage daughter whose immune systems are weakened.
“We sacrificed so much as a family to protect them for six months,” said Wyborski.
But in September her daughter was supposed to fly over the country to visit her father.
“She loves him. She wanted to see him so badly. She asked him to come here,” said Vyborsky.
Wyborski received a message from a pediatrician that her daughter was “at high risk” and that air travel was “not recommended”. A judge held a hearing in which Wyborski’s ex-husband set out the steps he is taking to keep her daughter safe in the end, the judge left it up to the parents to work it out. Wyborski’s ex bought a plane ticket and she said she had no choice but to send her daughter because of her custody agreement.
“It’s annoying that we as parents can’t reach an agreement,” said Wyborski.
Wyborski’s ex could not be reached for comment.
Like so many families, dealing with custody has gotten even more complicated by the age of COVID-19.
“Obviously there are a whole host of new problems that families really haven’t addressed and we need to help them figure out how to navigate,” said Barbara Burr, a family law attorney for nearly 20 years.
According to Burr, this is a particular challenge for newly separated couples trying to reach an agreement on a custody agreement now. And she says there are many more of them after eight months of quarantine.
“People are realizing that they really aren’t supposed to be together and that they can’t take it anymore,” Burr said, adding that issues related to common parenting can be particularly volatile.
She says if the couple have different opinions about the severity of COVID-19 and the precautions to take, parents need to recognize that one household’s behavior affects the other.
Obviously there are a whole host of new issues that families really haven’t addressed and we need to help them figure out how to navigate
Barbara Burr, family law attorney
“It is a challenge figuring out how to make decisions from two separate houses where you don’t make decisions in the same house as well,” said Burr.
But that’s exactly what Dr. Meghan Delaney that parents must do to protect the children and each other. As the chief pathologist at Children’s National Hospital, she saw a case after the COVID-19 case emerged in the same family.
“Having household contact is a very good way to catch COVID,” Delaney said, adding that research shows children can be asymptomatic and can spread COVID-19 silently for weeks without even knowing they have it.
Delaney said it is more important than ever for parents to avoid downplaying a cough, runny nose, or fever and share that information with a co-parent.
“Could this be something that could spread to an adult or someone who has a real risk factor for serious illness? That changes the way you have kids around who might have it,” Delaney said.
She compares the situation to that of a parent before planning a game date with another family. You should discuss the precautions everyone has taken and make sure both households are on the same side.
Your chances of encountering the coronavirus at an event on this Thanksgiving Day
Based on a model developed by researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, this map uses real-time data to show the risk of attending an event based on its size and location. The risk level refers to the likelihood of encountering at least one COVID-19 positive person, and the model assumes that there are at least five times more cases than reported.
Since children do not wear masks at home, they would likely be in close contact with step-siblings who might then return to their other parents and move on to a third household, and so on. This could potentially have a domino effect through several families.
“If you have a family that is already divided and someone is already working with someone who is new and maybe has kids, that’s just an extra shift,” Burr said.
Burr says 90 to 95% of custody issues are settled without a judge, which is good given that months of closed courtrooms have left a significant backlog. Cases that are heard virtually are usually emergencies.
“Obviously, having the child who doesn’t see parents is not a good solution, but the children’s safety is essential. That’s why it’s difficult,” Burr said.
Families with children traveling in must also consider quarantine or testing requirements when returning from another state.
According to Burr, the best advice is to put the children first and keep them safe from conflict. She says there are many mental health professionals and therapists who specialize in helping co-parents deal with these issues when needed.
Wyborski’s daughter made it back from her September trip without any problems, but now she’s gone for Thanksgiving.
Wyborski says she just hopes that all families think of each other when making decisions.
“It’s a big problem,” said Vyborsky. “There has to be a lot of communication going on. And you have to be all on the same page to protect both families.”
Reported by Jodie Fleischer and filmed and edited by Evan Carr and Jeff Piper. Katie Leslie contributed to this report.