Skip to main content

Co-Parenting in a Crisis: COVID-19 and Beyond

UPDATE: Chief Justice John D. Casey sends an Open letter regarding co-parenting during COVID-19:

"It is times like this, when society faces threats once thought unimaginable, that the rule of law is more important than ever... Parenting orders are not stayed during this period of time. In fact, it is important that children spend time with both of their parents and that each parent have the opportunity to engage in family activities, where provided for by court order. In cases where a parent must self-quarantine or is otherwise restricted from having contact with others, both parents should cooperate to allow for parenting time by video conference or telephone."

Additional resources have become available during this crisis, please scroll to the bottom of this post for more resources.

Co-Parenting in a Crisis: COVID-19 and Beyond

by Jennifer Hawthorne

Mediators and collaborative professionals work with parents to create a realistic and practical parenting plan that is detailed enough to provide a roadmap for parents but flexible enough to allow for change given new circumstances.

At times though, even the best reality testing fails because life throws situations at us that may have been unimaginable when the parenting plan was created. What we are all living through now with the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary social distancing it has brought is certainly beyond what most of us imagined would occur during our lifetimes. This sort of thing only happens in dystopian movies and novels, right?

For families who live in two homes, the social distancing and potential government imposition of a full quarantine, like those already in effect in Italy and China, brings with it challenges beyond staying healthy, keeping your distance from others, and ensuring you have enough food and toilet paper to get you through the next two or more weeks.

For parents, at a minimum, it also means thinking about:
  • When and how your children should move between homes during periods of social distancing?
  • Should the children bring belongings back and forth? 
  • Is there consensus on who will be allowed near the children during this period of social distancing as well as who each parent will be around to allow for proper tracking if either parent or the children begin showing signs of illness? (Significant others, other children in the household, grandparents, etc.)
  • What is the plan if one parent starts showing signs of illness while they have parenting time? 
  • What is the plan if one parent starts showing signs of illness while they do not have parenting time? 
  • What is the backup plan if both parents show signs of illness at the same time? 
  • What if a child becomes ill? 
  • What if both parents are hospitalized? 
  • Do you both have a list of emergency childcare providers? 
  • Do you both have contact information for doctors and family members who may need updating?
  • Where will the children stay if the government stops allowing free movement? 
  • What technology can you leverage to continue to allow the children to meaningfully interact with the non-residential parent if a full quarantine is put into place?
In the short-term, while free movement is still allowed, to keep a sense of normalcy for your children, if at all possible, it’s probably best to stick to your regular parenting plan with lots of hand washing and sanitizing as the children move between households. If because of a lack of school, lack of childcare, and/or employer expectations it’s not possible to stick to a normal schedule, try to come up with a plan that might meet everyone’s needs for the next few weeks. If you need assistance having these emotionally charged and stressful conversations, reach out to a mediator or co-parenting coordinator who might be able to help you talk through some contingency planning.

The mediators at Skylark are available via Zoom so that we can all continue practicing social distancing while still helping our clients make difficult co-parenting decisions.   Although we always encourage dispute resolution before court action, for anyone reading who might be inclined to let a judge determine your contingency parenting plan, it’s important to know that the Supreme Judicial Court has issued multiple orders limiting access to state courthouses and court facilities.  Visit the court's website for the latest orders.

We hope everyone reading stays safe and healthy, and we encourage a little planning now which could provide some relief in the future from the stress that this type of crisis has left us all feeling. Should a health crisis or quarantine arise for your family, creating a plan now will alleviate the need to do so when things become even more difficult.

Even if you have a plan for this crisis, use this time to consider building into your parenting plan a process for how emergency decisions will be made in the future, and who you will work with if you're unable to reach agreement.  Get to know a mediator or co-parenting coordinator who can be a resource for your family in times of crisis.  You may hope you never need them, and if you do then you'll at least feel like one more thing is in your control at a time when other things may feel out of control.

UPDATE: Additional resources have become available during this crisis:

How to Talk to Your Children About the Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Seven Guidelines for Parents who are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic

AFCC - Coronavirus (COVID-19) Resources and Information

As courts and government officials deal with this crisis, more and more will issue orders that address how parenting plans should be enforced during stay-at-home requirements.  A few examples have already been issued:

Chief Justice John D. Casey sends an Open letter regarding co-parenting during COVID-19: "Parenting orders are not stayed during this period of time..."

Dallas County Standing Order Regarding Possession Schedule During School Closures

Ohio Department of Health Stay at Home Order which includes a provision allowing for essential travel to "transport children pursuant to a custody agreement."

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

What is the purpose of the Divorce Nisi waiting period?

In Massachusetts the statutory waiting period after a Judgment of Divorce and before the divorce becomes final (or absolute) is called the Nisi period. After a divorce case settles or goes to trial, a Judgment of Divorce Nisi will issue and it will become Absolute after a further ninety (90) days.

This waiting period serves the purpose of allowing parties to change their mind before the divorce becomes final. If the Judgment of Divorce Nisi has issued but not become final yet, and you and your spouse decide you don't want to get divorced, then you can file a Motion to Dismiss and the Judgment will be undone. Although many of my clients who are getting divorced think the idea of getting back together with their ex sounds crazy, I have had cases where this happened.

In addition to offering a grace period to change your mind, the Nisi period has three other legal effects:

1. The most obvious effect of the waiting period is that you cannot remarry during the Nisi period, because…

Does a Criminal Record affect Child Custody?

If one of the parents in a custody case has a criminal record, the types of crimes on their record could have an effect on their chances of obtaining custody. In custody cases the issue is always going to come down to whether or not the best interests of the child might be affected.

In the most extreme case, in which one parent has been convicted of first degree murder of the other parent, the law specifically prohibits visitation with the children until they are of a suitable age to assent.

Similarly, but to a less serious degree, in making custody and visitation determinations the court will consider crimes that would cause one to question the fitness of a parent. These types of crimes would obviously include any violent crime convictions which could call into question whether the children would be in danger around a parent who has shown themselves to resort to violence when faced with conflict. In addition, drug and alcohol abuse offenses would call into question a parent'…

The Questions that Lawyers and Mediators aren't asking but should: Let's talk about Pronouns

I recently had the opportunity to train with two of the most prominent mediators in Massachusetts: John Fiske and Diane Neumann. Each time they run a training, John and Diane share what they think is the most important question for a client to answer to have an effective mediation. John says that he thought the most important question is "What do I want?" But then he will tell you, with a knowing smile, that Diane disagreed with him and she would say that the most important question for a client to answer is "Who am I?"

I agree with Diane. The best lawyers and mediators ask their clients not just about what they want, but also deep questions about the clients' identity, goals, and values in order to help the clients resolve conflict in the most effective way possible. Despite knowing this, we often fail to ask clients the simplest questions when we first meet them or have them fill out an intake. We fail to give them an opportunity to answer the question “Who …