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Co-Parenting During COVID

Co-parenting can often be challenging for divorced (or divorcing) parents. Add a worldwide pandemic into the mix and you’ve got a whole new set of challenges. One common issue we have seen emerge in recent months is differences of opinions over COVID-19.

People certainly have different beliefs or “risk tolerances” toward the coronavirus. Some are very cautious, following all CDC and health expert advice and generally avoiding any situations that may create exposure to the virus. Others are more willing to be out in public, going to restaurants indoors, stores, and engaging socially with many others. So, how do you handle situations where parents are separately caring for the kids but have very different approaches to COVID-19? The simple answer: it can be difficult.

Different parenting styles are something all divorce lawyers often wrestle with when trying to negotiate cases. And, Courts have generally tried not to impose one parent’s approach onto the other parent. But, times are different today. Unlike disputes over appropriate bedtime, amount of electronics “screen time,” or whether “timeouts” are effective disciplining, decisions one parent makes during this pandemic could have direct health impacts on the children, the other parent, or even other people. For instance, if one parent is refusing to have their children wear masks or socially distance in public, they may be creating risks the other parent simply isn’t comfortable with when the kids return home.

So, what can a concerned parent do? The first step is to attempt to communicate your concerns to the other parent and try to work out basic guidelines that you both can agree to, in writing. These should be simple and straightforward enough so that you can communicate them to your kids in a consistent, understandable way. You can even consider making it a bit of a game for younger children, where they are “rewarded” when they, say, remember to wear their masks or wash their hands. Most children are already familiar with these rewards systems from school, or you may have something set up at home for them around doing chores. (Rewards charts on a fridge are a common sight in many homes, especially with younger children.)

If you find your co-parent is simply refusing to cooperate, then it’s time to engage an attorney to try to work out a more formal mutual understanding in writing or, if necessary, bring the matter before a judge. There are no clear guidelines that have been established for judges to follow in these uncharted waters, but like most other issues, common sense should prevail.

A filing with the Court that lays out your concerns and includes a clear, concise proposal to be followed by both parties may be well received by a judge. But, be aware, the Courts are still catching up on a huge backlog from months of closures, so it may take some time to get your matter heard before the Court.

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