What New York Parents Should Know About Co-Parenting During the COVID-19 Pandemic

What New York Parents Should Know About Co-Parenting During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Jennifer Stralka
Jennifer Stralka
 | 
During the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, many divorced families report significant challenges to the stability of their co-parenting arrangements due to the stress associated with fears of becoming infected and mandates to quarantine and engage in social distancing.  And for those families whose co-parenting arrangements were already contentious to begin with, COVID-19 may be amplifying old conflicts and creating new ones. 

In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, the safety of parents and children alike is of paramount concern, however, it may cause families to struggle to find the right balance between meeting the children’s needs to have meaningful contact with each of their parents, and the concerns for safety that may occur as a result of living in and alternating between two separate households.  As such, how can divorced parents tackle the unique challenges that COVID-19 presents?

The answer is that they must be adaptable, which is a critical factor in this regard. Children of divorce thrive when their parents are flexible and cooperative with each other in changing circumstances, communicate in a friendly and open manner, and readily coordinate with one another to address and solve novel challenges.  
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic not only creates such challenges, it also provides an opportunity for divorced parents to move forward despite old grudges and dysfunctional patterns.  Specifically, this is possible if they come to the realization that they must cooperate with one another in order to overcome the serious threat to their own physical and emotional health and were well-being as well as that of their children.

With quarantine and social distancing orders that have become an unfortunate fact of life for families across the world, it may be increasingly difficult – if not impossible – to comply with a previously negotiated co-parenting plan.  For instance, one parent’s home may be better suited to address the unique challenges associated with quarantining, such as a better internet connection, a private bedroom, and more outdoor space.  Or, one parent may be more capable of providing the daily homeschooling and supervision associated with the fact that many schools across the country are engaging in remote learning. 

In some families, one parent may be an essential worker, which means that they are at a greater risk of becoming infected and exposing their children to the virus.  Moreover., in some instances, children may have to rely upon public transportation to get from one home to the other. 


All of the above reasons make it important for parents to revisit and renegotiate their co-parenting schedule with the understanding that it may need to be amended once the pandemic crisis has passed.  In this view, it is highly recommended that you consult with a New York family law attorney in order to make appropriate changes to your co-parenting schedule to accommodate for the unique circumstances that the pandemic presents.  

Specifically, an attorney is in the best position to advise you of your legal options and to manifest the necessary changes to the co-parenting plan in writing so that it (i) meets your special needs as well as the needs of your children, and (ii) can be legally enforced in a court of law. 
Keep in mind that oral agreements to adjust the co-parenting plan may create unnecessary headaches in the future, which is why amendments to the plan must be made in writing for a court to enforce it. 


A significant challenge that divorced parents must overcome is disagreements over social distancing and other safety protocols during the pandemic.  It is not uncommon for divorced parents to have differing opinions over the severity of the pandemic, the precautions that should be taken, and the impact that it will have on their lives.  Keep in mind that safety measures differ depending upon the circumstances of one’s case.  This is why co-parents should support one another and avoid sending messages to their children that one household is “safer” than the other. 

While these are unprecedented times, and there is still a lot to learn about the virus, what is unique about the pandemic is that there are clear directives from the government as well as medical experts to (I) avoid unnecessary excursions, (ii) limit social contact to immediate family members, and (iii) maintain a safe six-foot distance from others. 
By adhering to public health recommendations, parents undoubtedly protect their own heath as well as that of their children and others. It also helps parents reduce the potential for conflict if they are both on the same page about following all applicable health and safety guidelines. In other words, putting aside old disagreements and focusing on working together to comply with all necessary health and safety directives will help to facilitate a smooth transition to a new co-parenting schedule. 

In addition to physical health concerns, the mental health of children is of critical importance during periods of prolonged isolation. Children in separated families are particularly vulnerable to mental health and emotional problems, especially during the COVID-19 crisis, as they have to cope with co-parenting, two homes, two-family settings, and the threat of contracting the virus. 
While warmth and patience may run low as pressures mount, children need both of their parents’ emotional understanding and support in these difficult and frightening times. Accordingly, anything that co-parents can do to reduce the stress on their children under the unique set of circumstances presented by the pandemic is critical to their emotional and mental well-being. 

Unless there are extenuating circumstances, denying parenting time by one parent toward the other is inconsistent with the best interests of their children, even during the pandemic.  As long as parents are healthy and able to provide for their children’s needs, the pandemic should never be a reason for one parent to unilaterally deny the other parent time with his or her children.  By doing so, it can emotionally traumatize their children, as they need guidance, love, and emotional support from both their parents, especially during this time of crisis. 

If, however, a parent has a legitimate concern about their children’s potential exposure to COVID-19 by being in the other parent’s household, said parent should not hesitate to speak up.  Specifically, there may be a situation where a parent must forgo spending time with their children so as to avoid exposing them to the virus.  As noted above, a parent’s employment may place their children at a greater risk of being infected with the virus, resulting in necessary measures to prevent that from happening. Whatever the situation presents, it is critical for parents to coordinate with one another to come up with a safe and flexible parenting solution that adheres to set COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

In the event that a conflict or significant dilemma cannot be resolved, parents should consider hiring a New York family law attorney to immediately address the issues and come to a mutual understanding.  In the event that hiring an attorney is not possible, or further intervention is required, parents can consider certain alternative dispute resolution processes.  These include family therapists, mediators, parenting coordinators, and other out-of-court decision-makers to assist parents in resolving their dispute. 

In sum, it is critical for divorced parents to rise to the challenge during the COVID-19 crisis and look at it as an opportunity for them to effectively communicate with one another and to cooperate for the benefit of their children.  If parents are able to effectively coordinate with one another and make proactive and healthy decisions that are in the best interests of their children during this time of crisis, they more likely will be able to do so even when the pandemic has passed. Overall, this presents a win-win situation for divorced parents and their children alike.

 

This article is intended to convey generally useful information only and does not constitute legal advice. Any opinions expressed are solely those of the author, not LawChamps.
Jennifer Stralka

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