News & Opinion | June 30, 2020 6:00 am

Separated Parents Are Using “Social-Distancing Contracts” as Weapons Against Their Exes

Controlling exes are taking advantage of a bad situation

social distancing contracts
Controlling exes are using coronavirus to their advantage.
Getty Images

Co-parenting with an ex is hard. Co-parenting with an ex during a pandemic is harder, and apparently some particularly vengeful parents are taking advantage of that difficulty to leverage control over their exes.

Such co-parents are apparently drawing up “social distancing contracts” to control their ex-partners, according to a recent BuzzFeed News report. Separated parents are using these contracts to limit their ex-partners’ ability to do everything from seeing friends to going outside by demanding their partners follow all social-distancing guidelines while the children are in their care. While it may seem like a move parents are making in order to protect their children, legal experts believe it’s just a chance for exes, particularly ones with a history of abusive or controlling behavior, to exert dominance over their former partners.

“COVID-19 is a giant magnifying glass,” Susan Myres, a family law specialist in Texas and president of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers, told BuzzFeed. “And if he was, or is, controlling during their marriage, it’s going to feel even stronger now.”

Alton Abramowitz, a matrimonial lawyer in New York City, told the outlet he’s heard of “hundreds” of social-distancing contracts between separated co-parents. “This pandemic really created the perfect storm for someone who wants to just fight,” he said. “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.”

Unfortunately, like many aspects of the coronavirus pandemic, this kind of power play is largely unprecedented, and many legal authorities don’t know how to proceed.

“My lawyers seemed to not know how to handle it and were almost giving in,” said one mother whose abusive ex presented her with a social-distancing contract. “It seemed like they were taking it seriously.”

Helen E. Casale, a family lawyer in Pennsylvania, said that she had a client refuse to sign the social-distancing contract her ex presented, and suggests others do the same. “This is unnecessary,” Casale told BuzzFeed News. “It’s an example of him exerting this control, and he thinks he has free rein to do so because the governor is saying he can.”

Meanwhile, considering divorce rates are expected to see a major COVID-era spike, such pandemic parenting disputes will probably only continue.

Subscribe here for our free daily newsletter.