While the government is attempting to limit your movements and restrict with who you can socialize with in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic — is it legal for your ex to do the same?
A mother of two recently divulged to BuzzFeed News how her ex-husband sent a proposed court order stipulating that she must abide by all New York state rules regarding social distancing, including not attending any nonessential gatherings, and not having any visitors while their children are with her.
“It really feels like my rights are very The Handmaid’s Tale,” she said, referencing Margaret Atwood’s classic about women being subjugated into motherhood by men.
The woman revealed her social distancing contract with BuzzFeed News but requested for her identity to remain out of concern for her safety. She revealed how her husband had always been emotionally abusive, and the pandemic gave him the opportunity to attempt to control her under the veneer of safety and concern for their children.
“The pandemic just reset everything,” she said. “I had distanced myself from him, and it feels like the government is saying I can only be with him and my children.”
COVID-19 has introduced yet another fear and the focus is separated parents fighting with each other using a “social distancing contract.”
Multiple family lawyers inform BuzzFeed News how many separated parents are using the pandemic to attempt to put additional restrictions on their exes, including social distancing contracts and other changes to custody agreements.
And while the efforts of these types of contracts seem appropriate for the current climate, according to lawyers, their existence can also be used to emotionally abuse the other parent. Parents could be prevented from dating a new person, banned from seeking help with childcare or unable to receive emotional support from family and friends.
While judges attempt to avoid limitations on parenting choices, lawyers also warned that social distancing contracts create unnecessary drama in high-tension custody and divorce battles.
“This pandemic really created the perfect storm for someone who wants to just fight,” said matrimonial NY lawyer Alton Abramowitz, who claims to have heard “hundreds” of similar social distancing contracts.
“I haven’t seen any statistics and what I’ve heard is purely anecdotal, but I know a lot of the judges were complaining that they were overburdened with these kinds of custody issues,” said Abramowitz. He went on to describe a social distancing contract as “overkill.”
Helen E. Casale, a family lawyer in Pennsylvania, said as soon as the pandemic started, people quickly began questioning custody agreements and attempting to make new restrictions. “Everybody’s senses are so heightened, even cases of mine that were really quiet for a while have all of a sudden become high-stress,” she said.
But since the pandemic, many family’s living dynamics have shifted dramatically and separated parents may need to adjust their legal agreements and adopt a pandemic parenting plan, according to Katherine Miller, a New York divorce attorney and founder of Miller Law Group.
“What seemed ‘overcontrolling’ might be appropriate,” said Miller. “What seemed ‘appropriate’ might be reckless these days. We really don’t know.”
With a background in the creative and educational fields, Amelia Finefrock is freelance writer, singer-songwriter and nanny based in Chicago.
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