A sad New Jersey father met with me in our Virtual Law Office to discuss his pending divorce. As he is doing every day, he’d called his three-year-old boy on Zoom the previous night and almost cried when the child said, “I can’t see the virus daddy, so it’s gone. Come play with me tomorrow.”
“What do I tell Clark?” he asked with anguish in his voice. “I can’t say ‘maybe tomorrow’ again because it won’t be tomorrow, and he’ll stop believing anything I say.”
This client’s dismay is being reflected and expressed to me by many separated and divorced fathers in New Jersey. They are asking the same question: What do they tell their children?
In fact, there are two issues:
- What to tell children about COVID-19
- Renegotiating visitation schedules
Divorced New Jersey Fathers Must Be Honest Yet Tailored to a Child’s Age
Experts in child development say the most important thing is to remain calm and be truthful. Don’t say “maybe tomorrow” if you know that won’t be possible. Just as important, keep the information you provide appropriate to the age of your children.
Make yourself available to your kids and pay attention to what the children are seeing on television or online. Explain to them that many things they see on TV or on their friend’s Facebook page might be inaccurate or based on rumors or made-up information.
The best place to start is to ask them what they already know and follow the lead of your children. The job of a divorced New Jersey father is to make sure their children feel safe regardless of their age. Children of all ages need a chance to express their fears and part of your responsibility is to know when they need guidance.
For instance, teens might express frustration and anger at not being able to hang with their friends. Explain that the government rules are to keep everybody safe and healthy, and a short-term inconvenience is worth ensuring that as few people as possible get sick. Remind them that while many infections and deaths occur in older people, infants as well as youngsters and teens are catching COVID-19.
Children under about 10 or 11 may fear that dad will die. Assure them you are being very careful, wearing a mask when you go out, and that you do not go near people who are sick. Tell them that nearly everybody who gets COVID recovers.
The Centers for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic and KidsHealth offer more guidance for separated and divorced dads in New Jersey.
Revising Visitation Schedules for Fathers in New Jersey
Whether a dad is the custodial parent and the kids want to see their mother, or if the children live with mom and are missing their time with you, it is possible to maintain something close to the court-ordered visitation schedule while keeping you and the children safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
As we wrote when New Jersey issued its stay-at-home order, there are ways to work through visitation schedule hurdles and roadblocks brought on by the emergency.
The place to start is by trying to negotiate a new, temporary arrangement with your ex-wife. Many are willing to do so provided the children are not put at risk.
We have a client who is the custodial father and knew his two kids needed to be with their mother on a sort of regular basis even now. She agreed to stay in her home for 14 days, ordering groceries and other essentials online so she was not exposed to other people.
The dad was fine with this and suggested every third weekend rather than every other one. He also agreed to her Thursday pickup as long as she made sure the youngsters spent Thursday and Friday in their virtual schoolroom and doing homework. His ex-wife knew that the usual transfer schedule was difficult for everybody and went along with the modification.
Other fathers are working out their own novel ways to have real face time with their children, not just in video chats.
If a mother refuses to allow visitations, to accept a modified visitation schedule, or agrees but then balks at following through on her consent, we can ask a court to compel her to do so. But judges will want to ensure that any changes keep kids safe because what is in the best interests of children is required by law.
We’ll Help New Jersey Fathers See Their Children During COVID-19
As the divorce attorneys for men and fathers in New Jersey, we are working remotely every day and can help if you’re having visitation issues. We are in touch with each other and the court as well as access to client files thanks to our electronic infrastructure.
If you are a separated or divorced father in New Jersey and have concerns about modifying visitation schedule now, we can meet with you in our Virtual Law Office or we can discuss your situation by phone at either 973.562.0100 in Nutley or, in Montclair, at 862.245.4620.
To schedule an appointment, please request a day/time here.