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Co-Parenting in the Time of COVID-19

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The global spread of COVID-19 (a.k.a Corona Virus) is affecting millions and has been deemed by the United States government a national pandemic.  Both the Federal and California state governments are calling upon citizens to do their part in assisting with slowing the spread of this novel virus, which has given rise to sudden deviations from all of our normal routines.

As experienced Family Law attorneys, we anticipate the current state of affairs may be especially difficult for separated or divorced parents trying to navigate through these peculiar times.  The following are general guidelines, based on our experience, that we believe all co-parents should be cognizant of:

  • Court Orders Remain in Effect Despite Court Closures

The San Diego Superior Courts have announced their closure, with limited exceptions, for the next few weeks.  Even though the Courts are temporarily closed, any orders of the Court remain in effect.  This includes parenting plans, support orders, and otherwise.

Court orders regarding payment of child or spousal support remain in effect.  If you have been ordered to pay support, you must continue to do so.  The spread of COVID-19 has created financial stress for many who are or may soon face reduced pay as a result of reduced hours, or even loss of employment entirely.  These conditions can be very scary for both payors and payees of support.  It is important for parents to work together during this time to provide each other and their children with financial security.

Court ordered parenting plans also remain in effect. It is anticipated that many co-parents may need to modify their parenting plans temporarily to accommodate school closures, limited availability or total unavailability of childcare, parents working from home, parents employed with “essential jobs” having less flexibility than the other parent, or possibly even parents being required to work more than usual.

Parents may modify their regular parenting schedule if needed, and in-fact are encouraged to do so, so long as they are both in agreement and the changes are in the best interests of their children.  This does NOT mean parents may take advantage of the current circumstances to withhold their children from the other parent, unless of course required for exigent circumstances.

  • Keep your children’s health, safety, and welfare forefront in your decision making.

This is truly the golden rule of parenting at any time, but is especially true now.  Even parents doing their best to safeguard their children’s awareness of the rising stress and fear generated by the spread of this virus are not likely to entirely do so.  Children are perceptive.  They pick up on their parents’ stress and are sensitive to changes in their environment.   Yet, unlike adults, they have less capacity to understand and comprehend these feelings.  It is imperative for co-parents to make decisions with this in mind and do their best to ease tensions for their children.

  • Be reasonable in your requests and willingness to agree;

These times are creating a need for many to alter their regular parenting plans.  While we do not know exactly how long we will be living in what feels like an “alternate universe,” we do know in the grand scheme of things, this is temporary.  Strict adherence to Court ordered parenting plans may not be possible right now.  When necessary, co-parents should focus on accommodating each other’s schedules and their children’s needs and schedules as much as feasibly possible.

Now, is a perfect opportunity for co-parents to work together and strengthen their parenting relationship.  For this to occur, parents must be reasonable with one another, not only in their parenting requests, but also their willingness to make agreements for alternative options.

The Courts will not penalize parents for failing to adhere to Court ordered parenting plans so long as they are doing so reasonably, in agreement, and the alterations remain in the children’s best interests.  By contrast, parents should be aware their failure to be reasonable during this time could potentially be later addressed in Court and likely would not be well-received.

  • Be flexible with one another.

All of our lives for the foreseeable future are subject to sudden transformation.  A parenting plan agreed upon last week, may need to change the following week.  This is a reality parents must be prepared to face.  Be aware of resources that can help.  There are many online tools parents may use to organize calendars, share information, plan schedules, activities, and even just for general communication. If you and your co-parent are not already utilizing these tools, now may be the perfect time to start.

  • Alternative Resources May be Available.

While we write this post promoting the need for co-parenting, we are also aware in some cases this simply is not feasible.  For the time being, Parents facing the inability to agree are left without the ability to seek resolution or recourse from the Courts.  If such circumstances arise, there may be alternatives to help reach resolution.

  • Many Family Law attorneys also practice as mediators. A great number of these attorneys are available and offering virtual mediation sessions.
  • Family Law attorneys can help draft stipulations for temporary agreements. Once executed these agreements are enforceable contracts and can be filed with the Court as an order, once reopened.
  • Seek help from agreed-upon third parties if you need help with childcare. You are not the only ones facing difficult circumstances and many people are available and happy to help.  Don’t be afraid to ask!

Overall, the disruption to our daily lives can be unsettling sparking increased stress, chaos, and even fear.  These unprecedented times can also be a good reminder to take time to appreciate the things we cherish most about life.  Be kind and cognizant of what others may be dealing with, as often times we do not know the extent.

Somewhere between the two extremes of chaos and appreciation we must find some balance. As Hollywood superstar Tom Hanks and his wife, Rita Wilson, both of whom tested positive for COVID-19 and self-quarantined, have demonstrated spread kindness and humor.  Tom Hanks, having recently portrayed the legendary Mr. Rogers in film, took a moment to remind everyone of his famous advice in bad times, “look for the helpers.”

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