PEOPLE's Voices from the Coronavirus Crisis will share firsthand accounts of the people facing unique challenges during a global pandemic

By People Staff
April 06, 2020 03:17 PM

Managing a blended family can be challenging at the best of times — add in a contentious custody battle and a global pandemic and things get infinitely more complicated. Amy* is a Brooklyn-based mom who shares her 7-year-old son with an ex, as well as a 2-year-old baby girl and a 15-year-old stepson with her husband. Amy, with her lawyer Leslie Barbara, has been battling her ex over custody issues since 2017. But when the 42-year-old mother decided to temporarily stay in Virginia — where her husband currently resides and works — as New York City grew into a coronavirus hot spot, things escalated. Now, Amy opens up about managing everything amid an international health crisis.

My ex and I already had a very contentious custody situation, and it has been exacerbated by everything going on with coronavirus. Because of the existing custody agreement with my ex, who is based in Brooklyn, I live in New York with our 7-year-old son Connor, and Sara, my 2-year-old daughter. My husband sees us maybe once a month at best as he lives and works in the Virginia area.

Connor never had an intact family — my ex and I were always apart, never lived together. He doesn’t have that sense of a full family. But he has a decent relationship with his dad, and I think they have fun.

We had not planned as far in advance for our visit to see my husband as we normally would have; we were scared and wanted to see one another. We planned to go Virginia on a Friday and be back on a Sunday, per usual. Things then changed rapidly, schools were canceled and concerns for N.Y.C. grew rapidly as well, so we arranged to stay in Virginia for a bit, but continue visitation as normal.

The rapid advancement of N.Y.C. becoming a hotspot with severely limited medical resources — even for non-COVID related things — informed my request for Connor to skip a single visit with my ex just until the worst there had passed. However, my ex refused to make up his weekends at a later date; he wanted Connor to come back to the city.

So now I am bringing Connor to Brooklyn for his two-night visit with his father. I’m not happy risking everyone’s health as I can’t predict how this pandemic will play out. My husband and I feel that because the population in New York is so dense, things are going to get scarier; things there just feel apocalyptic.

[Editors’ Note: Virginia has issued a shelter-in-place order until June 10, while New York City has done the same through April 30.]

People are seen wearing masks in Central Park during the Coronavirus Covid-19 pandemic in the United States.
Brazil Photo Press/

If [my husband and kids] could all be living in the New York area by now, we would have been doing that. My husband looked for jobs there, but his work is very specific, and he needs to stay in Virginia. Plus, we wouldn’t want to uproot him and Patrick, my stepson. Connor is very close to his sister and stepbrother, and he should be able to be with them, but because of the [custody] stipulations that existed before I was married, we have to go back and forth between the two states.

In Virginia, we have a house with a backyard; Connor has his own room. It would be crushing to stay inside our N.Y.C. apartment all day, especially for a seven-year-old and a two-year-old. It’s an emotionally challenging situation, even aside from having three kids in the house; two of them are homeschooling and my husband is working from home. And now, I’m doing what feels like gymnastics just to be a family.

We just want to keep things as normal as possible. And that does include with Connor’s dad. I know my ex wants to see his son. I understand that. I just want us to be able to have a conversation of how and when we can make that work in the safest way for everyone. I think this highlights how trapped kids can get in the parents’ choices, not allowing for the ability to really put the child first.

The U.S.N.S. Comfort arrives in NYC to help with the overcrowding at city hospitals with Covid-19 patients.
Steve Sanchez/Pacific Press/Shutterstock

The challenges of dealing with a contentious relationship and sharing a child are so hard, especially with all that’s going on. Sometimes I find myself thinking, Would I rather get sick than make my son’s dad mad at me? And make what is already so complicated even more complicated? It’s heartbreaking.

My overall hope was that we could agree that a single weekend of missed visitation would be manageable to my son’s father so we could pass the worst of the pandemic peak. However, he refused and has clearly maintained that he would use legal force against me. I have no desire for more legal complications for myself or Connor, and will let Connor return to see his dad.

The hardest part? Upon his return to Virginia, Connor will have limited physical contact with his brother, sister and my husband. I will do my best to protect myself, but Connor and I are very close, he is deeply connected with his sister. In New York, it’s just the three of us almost all the time. As recommended for anyone leaving the New York tri-state area, we will treat ourselves as though we have been exposed to the coronavirus and follow local quarantine requirements.

[Editors’ note: Names have been changed due to ongoing court proceedings.]

  • As told to Morgan Evans