Divorce and Parental Rights Get More Complex as Covid Surges, Metro Detroit Lawyer Finds

April 16, 2020, 11:30 PM by  Allan Lengel

Jessica Woll: "Adding to the stress or subtracting?" (Photo: Woll & Woll)

One divorced parent wanted to rent a private plane to take his kids on a trip to the Virgin Islands during the coronavirus stay-home order.  Another wanted to rent an RV and go to San Francisco with the children. And another hoped to take the children to Florida for spring break.

Attorney Jessica Woll of the Woll & Woll firm in Birmingham, who practices family law, had answers for all these parenting-time cases she was involved in.

“How ‘bout ‘hell no, no and no.’”

As the coronavirus impacts everyone’s life, Woll – like other family law attorneys – deals with two particularly intense issues: Parental concerns that ex-spouses with joint custody are putting their children in harm’s way during the outbreak, and couples who are trying to figure out if this is the best time to file for divorce.

For potential divorces, she often asks, particularly now when people are confined together: “Is filing for divorce adding to the stress or subtracting from the stress?”

New strains for shaky relationships

For divorced parents, the state recently posted guidance about custody and parenting time. It urged parents to “try to set aside personal differences to agree on what is best for all involved,” if only because court operations are limited for an unknow length of time. (Emergency motions to protect children's health and safety are still held.)

Woll has filed about a half-dozen emergency orders to alter custody arrangements due to coronavirus fears and has had hearings via Zoom or through written motions.

In some cases, she’s represented doctors and nurses, or their spouses, who have concerns about children being exposed to the virus from the hospitals.

Some health-care workers have voluntarily agreed to stay away from the children during this time, she said, with the expectation that they can make up lost time, or at least resume regular parenting schedules at some point. In the interim, parents use Zoom or other platforms to stay in touch.

“A lot of people are coming together and doing the right thing,” she says.

Nowhere to flee

Divorces are another thing. “You have to look at it on a case-by-case basis.”

In some cases, she said, it’s better not to file while couples are still under the same roof with limited alternatives. In other instances, one of the parties has opted to leave and stay at a second home.

“Sometimes it’s much better for the kids for the parents to split up and file for divorce rather than be cooped up together,” she says.

Since last month, when the virus blew up in Michigan and elsewhere, Woll said she has filed, or is preparing to file, about a half-dozen divorce petitions.

In some cases, the filing comes as no surprise to either party. But sometimes it does.

One couple, she said, has been married for 60 years. “All their differences have been magnified,” she says. “But in the end, I don’t think they’re getting divorced.”

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