Lawyers: Parents with joint custody should honor their custody agreements amid pandemic

Lawyers: Parents with joint custody should honor their custody agreements amid pandemic

GERMANTOWN, Wis. (CBS 58) - Parents who have joint custody of their children say they’re going through a unique time during the COVID-19 pandemic. Their children are being exposed to two homes instead of sheltering in place at one.

The Wisconsin Department of Children And Families says despite the circumstances we’re in, both parents are still required to follow court orders. The governor’s Safer At Home order allows travel for custody agreements.

Tony Staniak lives in Germantown and has joint custody of his three kids -- Ryan, Drew and Christina.

“As soon as the kids come into my place or my ex’s place they wash their hands right away,” says Staniak.

Staniak knows having his kids go back and forth between two homes every two or three days heightens the risk of exposure to other people.

“The sphere of people is not just my ex-wife, me and my three kids, because it’s who we are each working with as well,” he adds.

Experts say it’s better to keep the rotation as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic and continue honoring custody orders.

“Most of our mental health professionals and most of our child development experts, they’re telling us that it’s more important for parents to stay connected to the child and for the child to stay connected to their parents than some of these risks,” said Susan Myres, President of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers.

“It’s better if we keep up the rotation and keep things as normal as we can you know, in these very unique times,” says Staniak.

Susan Myres says strong communication, planning and being transparent are key to a healthy agreement.

“Most of our judges across the country, and it looks like even the ones up in Wisconsin, are telling parents there is no reason that you should not continue your visitation set out in your order,” she said.

She’s seen some parents using the coronavirus as a reason to keep children from other parents.

“This situation highlights people that have good communication and good role modeling skills and it’s also highlighting those that don’t,” adds Myres.

“In my case, I’m lucky that my ex and I get along well and we talk quite a bit,” Staniak says.

For Staniak, he and his ex-wife have set out ground rules for visitation, like washing hands, washing clothes and showering after coming home from work.

“We’ve been making sure to check in quite a bit with each other to make sure the kids are feeling good when they come back and forth between the houses and who, if anyone, they’re interacting with,” he said.

“You are writing a narrative for your children,” said Myres. “How do you want them to remember how their parents behaved during this?”

The DCF says if your child has symptoms of the coronavirus, you should follow CDC guidelines in place for sick people and caregivers. That means parent and child must stay home, monitor and self-quarantine for two weeks.

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