By: Janine Danks Fox | Parenting Coordinator/Mediator
In the best of circumstances, co-parenting can be difficult. Without question, the COVID-19 pandemic has significantly increased the challenges of co-parenting. Now more than ever, it is critical that parents put their disputes aside with the mutual goal of ensuring that their children are protected from parental disputes. Children are already facing enough uncertainty and anxiety due to the abrupt changes to their daily routines. At lightening pace, children were told that they could no longer attend school, engage in sports and activities or socialize with friends. They have also been deprived of the opportunity to open up to teachers, coaches and other school professionals about their fears and frustrations. As parents, it is up to us to act in the children’s best interests to make them feel secure and safe during this difficult time, regardless of how challenging it may be.
Studies have shown that children benefit from the mutual love and support of both parents. To that end, notwithstanding co-parenting disputes or marital tensions, all parents should rise above their differences and find a way to reach common ground to ensure the children’s best interests are being served. While some parents will succeed, others will stumble. As a parenting coordinator, mediator and family law attorney, I have assisted countless parents in amicably resolving their disputes. The following are some general guidelines to help parents manage disputes that may arise during this unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic.
If parents are divorced or separated, the vast majority adhere to a specific custody and parenting time agreement. Unless there is a true emergency, the custody and parenting time schedule should continue without disruption. This will provide children with continued stability and interaction with both parents. If there is no parenting schedule in place, efforts should be made to negotiate a schedule that accommodates both parents’ schedules and maximizes each parent’s time with the children.
In other circumstances, there are parents experiencing marital difficulties while living under the same roof. These marital tensions could have long predated COVID-19 or be exacerbated by the new COVID-19 directives to work remotely while the children engage in remote education. If parents find themselves engaging in disputes regarding the balancing of their respective work obligations with child rearing, e-learning and household duties, parents should explore entering into an in-home parenting schedule. The schedule should set forth specific time frames or days that the parents will each assist with particular child rearing and household tasks to allow the other parent to focus on their work. If tensions are high within the house, parents may also wish to explore designating specific times for each to spend individually with the children. This approach should minimize tensions for parents and shield the children from unnecessary marital strife.
Although daily living and working circumstances have changed, that does not change the standard by which we should judge emergencies. COVID-19 itself does not qualify as an emergency that justifies disrupting a parenting schedule adhered to prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Moreover, it does not deny a parent living under the same roof the opportunity to share equal time with the children, even if the parents are experiencing marital tensions. Emergencies are extraordinary circumstances that require immediate actions to protect a child from danger or harm. If your child is being physically or emotionally abused by a partner/spouse/co-parent, or is placed at risk due to a parent’s failure to adhere to Governor Murphy’s COVID-19 directives/restrictions, then those circumstances would reasonably permit a parent to contact legal counsel or law enforcement to inquire as to options available to protect the child. With that said, our judiciary and law enforcement officers are already stretched thin, so such actions should be used only in emergent situations.
As a parenting coordinator, I assist parents in navigating day to day disputes that may arise, as a form of alternate dispute resolution. I serve as a neutral professional who offers parents a forum to air their frustrations, and provides solutions to their disputes with the sole goal of serving the children’s best interests. These unprecedented times have brought economic uncertainty, as well as new parenting challenges. Accordingly, use of a parenting coordinator to resolve ongoing disputes will not only allow for the opportunity to problem solve and ease parental stress, but will also serve to reduce legal fees.
If you have the need for a parenting coordinator, please don’t hesitate to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for a consultation via phone or video conference.
For more COVID-19 related resources and articles visit our COVID-19 Resource Center.
The foregoing is intended for general information purposes and is no substitute for specific legal advice.