With many parents working from home what are we to do when one suddenly becomes ill, or contracts COVID-19?
During this unprecedented time in our history many families are struggling to balance working from home, while helping children cope with the loss of their social networks and attempting to keep them engaged in distance learning. We are all also facing fear of the unknown. When will the shelter at home end? When will the children be able to return to school and see their friends? What will this new normal look like? And who would take care of my children if I became ill? Co-parenting is going to be extremely important during this time; even if it's been near impossible in the past. You will need to be the bigger person. You will need to be more patient, and more kind, and more forgiving of the other parent. And most importantly you will both need to continue to put the health, safety, and welfare of the children above all else.
Hallie Levine wrote an article published by the New York Times earlier this month, entitled "When Parents Get Sick, Who Cares for the Kids?" (link below)
The article details the experiences of several single-parents who face this fear every day. Hallie writes:
"With 160 million to 214 million Americans projected to become infected with the new coronavirus — and up to 21 million of them potentially requiring hospitalization — Kylstra’s dilemma is a frightening one that is playing out in households across the country. The disease resulting from infection with the new coronavirus, called Covid-19, is most dangerous for those at highest risk — older adults and those with pre-existing health conditions. But it has also been impacting younger, healthier adults who are in their 30s, 40s and 50s. 'We’re seeing situations where entire families are sickened with Covid-19, because it’s so contagious when you have prolonged close contact,' said Dr. Thomas Murray, M.D., Ph.D., associate medical director for infection prevention at Yale New Haven Children’s Hospital. While most parents will only show mild to moderate symptoms, he added, the reality is some will require hospitalization, and 'it’s impossible to predict who,' he said.This reality is a particularly disturbing one for single parents, who not only have to shoulder the sole responsibility of their child’s care, but who also have to worry what will happen to their kids if they end up in the hospital. 'When I got sick, it was my worst nightmare,' said Lesley Enston, 39, a single mother who lives in Brooklyn. Enston developed Covid-like symptoms in mid-March, including a loss of taste and smell, fatigue and mild shortness of breath. At first, she considered sending her daughter, age 1, to her father’s house, but eventually she was reluctant to do so since her dad has pre-existing heart and lung conditions. One night in late March, she struggled to breathe. 'I panicked, not knowing who would be able to take Desslyn if I required an ambulance,' she said.
Whether you’re high-risk or not, partnered or single, legal experts say it’s essential that all parents devise a backup plan now, even if you aren’t sick. 'You need to have an A, B and C list of friends and family members that would be willing to step in, knowing that they will most likely be exposed to the virus,' said Lauren Wolven, a trusts and estates attorney at Levenfeld Pearlstein LLC in Chicago. It’s a tough ask, and family members and friends may need some time to mull over their comfort level with it.
In an ideal world, the best caregivers would be any friends or relatives who have already been infected with the virus and have since recovered, Dr. Murray said, since theoretically they would already have at least some immunity. But that, of course, may not be realistic for many parents. Ideally, you’d choose someone who lives nearby, or at least within a few hours driving distance. 'You don’t want to pick someone who needs to fly across the country or drive several days if it’s an emergency,' Wolven noted.
Once you identify a temporary guardian, it’s important to put that agreement in writing. If your child gets sick and you’re unable to consent to their medical care (if you’re on a ventilator, for instance), you’ll want someone else to have the power to authorize their care, explained Greta Solomon, a trusts and estates attorney at Cohen and Wolf in Westport, Conn.
The requirements and necessary forms (called “standby guardianship” forms) for doing this will vary by state. If you already have a will, the easiest and quickest way to formally draft these documents would be to ask your attorney who drafted your will to do it for you. If you don’t have a will, you can often find these forms on your state’s government or judicial websites (the National Center for State Courts is a good place to start.) You and your standby guardian will then need to sign these forms, usually in the presence of two witnesses, Solomon added.
If you do become hospitalized or are otherwise unable to care for your child, it’s important to make sure that you have a care plan in place for your children. This should include essential information such as the names of their physicians, the medications they take and instructions on how to care for any pets, but it should also include a snapshot of your child’s daily routine, Wolven said. Is there a favorite book you typically read to your child in the morning? Are there any foods that she likes and dislikes? What about certain rituals she needs at night to help her wind down? Any favorite dolls and blankets?
"This way, if something does happen to a child’s parents, it’s less traumatic for them,' she explained.
Even if you don’t require hospitalization, you’ll still need to figure out how to recover while effectively caring for your kids. Denise Rice, 54, who lives in Brookfield, Conn., contracted the new coronavirus in March, along with her husband and their 5-year-old son. (Rice also has two other sons, ages 8 and 14, who have not yet gotten sick.) All three children were adopted and have special needs, Rice said, so she had to keep an eye on them at all times. Because Rice’s symptoms were much milder than her husband’s, she opted to remain the primary caretaker for their boys. “One of them is always up every three hours at night, so I’m getting more and more run down,” Rice said. 'I’m just kind of trying to chug through and make believe it’s a cold until my husband feels better.'
If two parents are ill, Dr. Murray said that it makes sense that the one less affected should pick up the parenting slack. But be prepared for the roles to be reversed later on.
If you’re parenting solo, focus on doing the bare minimum needed to care for your child. If you have friends who can help, consider asking them to drop off groceries or cooked meals, or even ask if they’ll video chat with your kids (if they’re older) so you can nap in peace. While you may be tempted to do chores like a load of laundry or vacuuming as you recover, don’t. 'It’s important for parents themselves to rest, so that they can focus on getting well for their children,' said Dr. Kristin Englund, M.D., an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic.
Also keep in mind that social distancing and disinfection practices are still important, even at home. If you have someone coming to your house to help while you’re ill, or if you’re sick and your partner is not, Dr. Murray said it’s best to try and quarantine yourself as much as possible. If you have more than one bathroom, designate one for anyone who’s infected. Ask any caretakers to regularly disinfect all high touch surfaces like kitchen counters, tables, doorknobs and light switches (ideally while wearing a mask).
If you do have masks around your house, wear them when you’re with your little ones to avoid getting them sick (if your kids are ill too, try to get them to wear a mask, though this isn’t necessary if you know that everyone in the house is infected). If your children are scared and want to sleep in your bedroom, resist letting them do so. This will not only ensure that you get a better night’s rest, but will help reduce the chances of you infecting them, Dr. Englund added.
If your kids are older, you might also think about teaching them certain helpful skills. When she was sick with Covid-19 for two weeks in March, Jaime Wagner, 42, a sales executive in Harrisburg, Pa., taught her 7-year-old daughter how to make basic meals like pasta, and how to put her 2-year-old sister down for naps. 'I sent her links of how to make meals via YouTube while her dad was working,' Wagner said. When her youngest turned 2, Wagner talked her daughter through making her little sister a birthday cake via video chat while isolated in her bedroom.
In the end, Kylstra said that she wished that she and her husband had already thought through these contingency plans before they got sick. 'Trust me,' she said, 'you don’t want to be having these conversations in the middle of the night when you’re both up battling fever and chills.' For years, she added, she and her husband had talked about creating a will. Now, she plans to do just that. 'When you’re young and healthy you think you can wait,' she said. 'But this pandemic has made clear that can change in an instant.' "
We, at the Law Offices of Maria E. Crabtree, can help you do just that. Even if the Courts are closed and limited to emergency hearings we are still able to help you reach temporary custody/visitation agreements and turn those agreements into Court orders until a full hearing can be set or the pandemic subsides.
If you've always thought drafting a will or creating a trust could wait for a later time but now realize that the time is now, give us a call, we can have your estate documents drafted to give you and your loved ones peace of mind. Stay safe, stay healthy; from all of us here at the Law Offices of Maria E. Crabtree.
In a divorce proceeding, it is possible to win an award of attorney fee's from the other party. One of these methods is through sanctions under California Family Code Section 271, but you can also obtain attorney fees where there is no sanction-worthy conduct, through California Family Code Section 2030.
In essence, if one party has more access to funds to retain counsel in a divorce proceeding, that party may be ordered to pay the attorney fees of the other party. This ensures that the spouse with the more financial power cannot bulldoze the other party into a result that is not in their best interest. These attorney fee awards are capped at what is a "reasonable" amount, which allows the court discretion to not award large attorney fee awards that are unwarranted. You can read the text of California Family Code Section 2030 below.
"(a)(1) In a proceeding for dissolution of marriage, nullity of marriage, or legal separation of the parties, and in any proceeding subsequent to entry of a related judgment, the court shall ensure that each party has access to legal representation, including access early in the proceedings, to preserve each party's rights by ordering, if necessary based on the income and needs assessments, one party, except a governmental entity, to pay to the other party, or to the other party's attorney, whatever amount is reasonably necessary for attorney's fees and for the cost of maintaining or defending the proceeding during the pendency of the proceeding.
(2) When a request for attorney's fees and costs is made, the court shall make findings on whether an award of attorney's fees and costs under this section is appropriate, whether there is a disparity in access to funds to retain counsel, and whether one party is able to pay for legal representation of both parties. If the findings demonstrate disparity in access and ability to pay, the court shall make an order awarding attorney's fees and costs. A party who lacks the financial ability to hire an attorney may request, as an in pro per litigant, that the court order the other party, if that other party has the financial ability, to pay a reasonable amount to allow the unrepresented party to retain an attorney in a timely manner before proceedings in the matter go forward.
(b) Attorney's fees and costs within this section may be awarded for legal services rendered or costs incurred before or after the commencement of the proceeding.
(c) The court shall augment or modify the original award for attorney's fees and costs as may be reasonably necessary for the prosecution or defense of the proceeding, or any proceeding related thereto, including after any appeal has been concluded.
(d) Any order requiring a party who is not the spouse of another party to the proceeding to pay attorney's fees or costs shall be limited to an amount reasonably necessary to maintain or defend the action on the issues relating to that party.
(e) The Judicial Council shall, by January 1, 2012, adopt a statewide rule of court to implement this section and develop a form for the information that shall be submitted to the court to obtain an award of attorney's fees under this section."
When Domestic Violence Restraining Orders are first issued after a hearing, they typically have an expiration date, ranging from one year to five years. At the end of the expiration date, the Restraining Order is no longer in effect. However, you can petition the court to renew the restraining order within three months of the expiration date. The court will try to set a hearing before the order expires, and they will either let the restraining order expire, renew it for five more years, or make it a permanent order. At this stage, the court is looking to see if you are in reasonable apprehension of future abuse. This means, you have to show that you are reasonably still afraid that your abuser will continue to abuse you. The court will consider the level of abuse that was found for the initial restraining order to determine if your fear is reasonable and will also look to any violations of the restraining order and the evolving behavior of both parties. If you have a restraining order, you might want to double-check when it expires, and consider applying for a renewal within three months of the expiration date.
How do I spend my child support?
If you have a child support order, you might be wondering what you should do with the money you receive. Your instinct might be that you need to spend the money directly on your children. And, in general, that would be correct. The first goal of child support, is to take care of your children's basic needs, such as food, clothing, shelter, and other necessities. However, sometimes, both parents make enough money that they can take care of these needs without child support, but, since the difference in income is so large, or because of a big difference in timeshare, there is still a child support order. You don't have to spend that money directly on your children and shower them with lavish expensive gifts. Of course, you should make a conscious effort to use the money to make your children's lives better, but this can manifest in different ways. The secondary goal of child support is to create an environment at both homes that is similar to what the children would experience if the parties were together, so spending that child support money on upgrading your home, or buying more expensive food, can be a reasonable use of child support. As long as the funds are in some way improving the lives of your children, your use of the child support money is typically discretionary, and you don't need to keep track of the payments or show proof with the court. Long story short, as long as you are meeting your children's needs, you shouldn't worry about where you directly spend your child support.
One of the most contentious areas of family law is child custody and visitation. When parents split up, they often have a lot of animosity towards each other. This can cause parents to be very critical about the parenting skills of their ex. This can cause a lot of stress and anxiety about how each person is parenting.
I would suggest that parents re-evaluate the way they think about the parenting of their ex. Try to think about how you would feel if you were still with your ex and this particular concern occurred. Would you laugh at the story and teach them a lesson for the future? Or would you be truly concerned and have to sternly address the issue? Would you really care that the kids spent time with their grandparents instead of their dad if you were in a relationship with dad? Maybe if it were for multiple hours every day and the kids were not attended to, but if it was one weekend so that your ex could go play golf with friends for a little, is that really so bad? For another example, maybe your ex got lost driving the kids home from a soccer tournament, and as a result, the kids were an hour late to their cousin's birthday party. This would likely be one of those laughter/learning moments, but many parents would not be so forgiving when it comes to their former partner/spouse.
Where this factors into the law, is that many parents try to use these laughter/learning moments in court pleadings and custody/visitation arguments. This can be a waste of everyone's time and money, and ultimately, the custody order is unlikely to change. You should only really use the court for those truly concerning events that you are worried about. This can include issues that are effecting your children's behavior and causing extreme lifestyle changes. Re-focusing your perspective on your ex's parenting can really help you get to a place where you can happily co-parent, which is what is ultimately in the best interests of your children.
Coming to an agreement on a child custody and visitation order can be extremely difficult. It can be hard to weigh out the benefits of our children spending time with the other parent compared to spending time with you. No matter how wonderful the other parent is, it is only natural that someone would believe they are the better parent, and it can be difficult to asses the situation from an unbiased point of view.
This often manifests itself in nitpicking about how the other parent spends their time with the children. Specifically, many parents have trouble knowing that their children have been left in the care of an extended family member or a babysitter, when the children could have been spending time with them instead. A solution for this is to include a right of first option for childcare, also known as a right of first refusal, in your custody and visitation order.
If you have a right of first refusal in your custody and visitation order, then when the other party requires childcare for an extended period of time, they are required to ask you first. The length of time is typically around 4 hours, but the parties can agree to any length of time. So, this wouldn't apply to trips to the grocery store, but it could apply to picking up an extra shift at work. When stepparents are involved, this could also mean that the parent would have to ask the other parent before allowing their spouse to watch the children. This type of arrangement prevents the children from being forced to spend time away from both parents when one is fully available, and can be a good option if you are concerned about these types of long absences of the other parent.
Divorce Petition and Response have been filed, but what comes next?Explaining Preliminary Declaration of Disclosures
During a divorce, once the Petition and the Response have been filed, the natural next question is "What next?" Unless a Request for Order has been filed, there are no court dates set based on a Petition and Response, so without some legal guidance, couples seeking a divorce may not know what to do.
The most common next step is for each party to file their Preliminary Declaration of Disclosures. The purpose of this is to disclose all of your financial information to the other party. While you are married, you have a fiduciary duty to your spouse, so you cannot hide any assets or debts from them. These disclosures typically consist of six parts, as outlined below.
1. Complete a Schedule of Assets and Debts (form FL-142) OR a Property Declaration (form FL-160).
The Schedule of Assets and Debts is the most commonly used form. This essentially lists all of the assets and debts in your possession or in your spouse's possession that you have knowledge of. On the form, you disclose the current value and the debt owed on the asset or debt, as well as the date that the asset or debt was acquired. The date is important, as that can help determine if the asset is community property or separate property. You only have to list the current values on the form, so you don't need to go back and figure out what the value was on the date of separation. That can be determined later. You will also need to attach bank statements, vehicle titles, mortgage statements, and other documents that evidence the numbers listed on your form. You could instead fill out a Property Declaration form, but for this you will need to separate what is community property and what is separate property. This form can be more difficult to fill out.
2. Complete an Income and Expense Declaration (form FL-150)
The Income and Expense Declaration is a form where you can list your average monthly income, your last month's income, and any deductions from your income. You also must disclose your employer's information, your education level, any attorney fees that you may be requesting, and your estimated monthly expenses. You will also need to attach your pay stubs from the last two months of employment. If you are self-employed, you will need to attach either a Schedule C or a Profit and Loss Statement evidencing your income. This form is useful for calculating any required child or spousal support payments that may be ordered.
3. Disclose your tax returns filed during the last two years
Not everyone has equal access to your tax returns, so you need to disclose them on the other party, whether you filed jointly or separately. This provides further access to records of income claimed by both parties.
4. Disclose a statement of all material facts and information regarding valuation of all assets that are community property or in which the community has an interest
Most of these assets will already have been disclosed in the Schedule of Assets and Debts, but you must state to your spouse that the list on the Schedule of Assets and Debts is all of the community assets. If there are additional assets, you would disclose them in this statement.
5. Disclose a statement of all material facts and information regarding obligations for which the community is liable
Similarly to #4, most of these obligations will have been disclosed in the Schedule of Assets and Debts, but you must state that the list on the Schedule of Assets and Debts is complete. If there are additional debts, you must disclose them here.
6. Disclose an accurate and complete written disclosure of any investment opportunity, business opportunity, or other income-producing opportunity presented since the date of separation that results from any investment, significant business, or other income-producing opportunity from the date of marriage to the date of separation.
Typically, there are no such investment opportunities, but you still must disclose a statement informing your spouse that there are no investment or business opportunities. However, if you have been approached with an opportunity that is based on any work or investments from during the marriage, you must disclose them here, even if you declined them.
If you filed the Petition, you have 60 days from when you served your spouse with the Petition to complete these disclosures. If you filed the Response, you have 60 days from when you file your Response to complete the disclosures. The parties can mutually agree to extend these deadlines. Now, this all sounds like a lot of work to do just to get divorced, but it is a lot simpler than this post makes it sound. In essence, you just need to make a list of everything you have and disclose it to the other person. This makes sense, because how can you even begin to settle all the issues when you don't have all of the information. Once these are complete, you should have enough information to determine a fair division of assets and debts, determine child support, and determine spousal support. And if you can agree to child custody and visitation, then you are well on your way to an easy divorce that both sides can agree on.
When you are ready for a divorce, you might be ready to have it completed as soon as possible. Unfortunately, California requires a six-month waiting period before a divorce is finalized. So, while you might both agree things are over, you will still have to wait.
Most divorce proceedings take longer than six months, but if you are able to agree on the legal matters, you could come to an agreement much sooner than that. Still, you will have to wait six months from the date that the responding party is served with the divorce petition until it can be official. You can submit your judgment and get it signed by the court, but the date of termination will be set in the future, likely at the six-month date. California does this to prevent couples who change their mind from having to get re-married. Essentially, the state thinks that a cooling-off period of six months is enough time for both parties to confirm that they want the marriage to end.
Child support and spousal support are two big pieces of many family law cases. Child support helps to balance the spending power of each parent towards the children, while spousal support helps to balance the income the parties were accustomed to during marriage. In both of these calculations, the income of each party is one of the most important factors in determining the amount of support.
So, one might think it would be a great idea to temporarily lower their income to pay less money in support. If you are self-employed, you might take less jobs during the months leading up to the support calculations. If you typically work a lot of overtime, you might hold back until support has been ordered. You might also consider quitting your job or not looking for work until support is in place. While these sound like good strategies, the Court has a way to work around these tactics. The Court may impute an income to you that is different than your actual income. So, by looking at your ability to work and the opportunities available for you to work, the Court may assign you a higher income for the purposes of calculating support. Your work experience, education, and job availability will steer the Court to create your imputed income, which could end up being higher than what your actual income would be. So, it may not actually be wise to try to hide and disguise your income, as the outcome may be worse for you.
What's more romantic than a prenup?
Tomorrow is Valentine's day, and I'm sure many people are scrambling for last-second gift ideas. It might be unconventional, but maybe a prenup or a post-nup is the way to go this Valentine's day! You may think a prenup is not romantic, but below are all of the reasons why it would truly be the best Valentine's day gift idea this year.
1. A prenuptial agreement outlines what belongs to who entering into the marriage, thus making it clear to both parties during the marriage which things belong to who.
2. Getting a prenuptial agreement can be a great educational experience. It teaches you all about what you are getting into as you approach your upcoming marriage. Or, for a post-nup, it teaches you the status of all of your property. Many people don't realize that in California all income after marriage belongs to both parties equally. If you get a prenup, you will have more knowledge!
3. It's a practical gift that is still in the spirit of love! Some people struggle finding that right gift that is in the spirit of Valentines day that is still practical. A prenup is all about love and marriage, yet it's also practical, as it outlines the roles of both parties in the marriage. What could be better?
4. In all seriousness, a prenup can help lessen any potential future heartbreak, by making the divorce process simpler and easier. So, you could be (but hopefully not!) saving yourself from sad future Valentine's days.
Maria E. Crabtree, CFLS