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Co-Parenting During COVID-19

April 21, 2020  | 
Closeup of father and son at home

{4 minutes to read} As I’m writing this on March 30, 2020, the Courts in New York State are open only for emergency relief, such as family offenses/orders of protection and child protective matters. Parents who are having non-emergency custody disputes are unable to access courts at this time to resolve their dispute.

In an article in the New York Law Journal, Judge Jeffrey Sunshine, the Statewide Coordinating Judge for Matrimonial Cases, was praised on two diverse listservs to which I belong, for his uniquely helpful approach.

Judge Sunshine presented the perspective of a judge’s thought process in hearing such a dispute, as a guide for advice attorneys could provide to clients, and the actions that clients should follow. In considering one of the factors that determine custody, namely, which parent is likely to provide access to the other, Judge Sunshine looks to the parties’ present behavior as an indication of how they will act in the future.

A parent may disobey a court order and refuse access to the child, knowing that the other parent is unable to go to court immediately to seek relief. This could result in a short-term “win,” but such behavior could have a major negative impact on the ultimate decision for that parent.

On an even more fundamental level, though, Judge Sunshine notes that how parents relate to each other in these times “will shape their relationship with each other as divorced parents in the future, the relationship they have with their children and most importantly the relationship that their children have with them.”

While modeling appropriate behavior has always been a vital role of a parent, it cannot be overstated how crucial that is now. What do you want your children to remember?

  • Their parents working together to find a way to keep them in touch with both parents, when they so deeply needed both of them in their lives; or  
  • One parent trying to manipulate the crisis to gain an advantage over the other parent?

Of course, there can be genuine safety reasons why a parent might not think it’s in the children’s best interests to visit the other parent. In that case, both parents can accept a temporary halt to in-person visits and have virtual visits to preserve the continuity of the relationship.

The daily toll this pandemic takes on all of us is enormous. That stress is even greater for those who are struggling to maintain co-parenting with someone with whom they barely agree on anything. If you are trying to be reasonable but have a co-parent who refuses to do the same, then you should contact your attorney and see if there is anything that can be done. But if you both can understand that working together now will significantly impact your children’s future in a much more positive way, it could lead to a much better outcome.

Please take a look at these PRACTICAL TIPS published by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers and the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts that parents sharing custody can follow. See if they can help you navigate through this time.

If you are both willing, you can also research parenting coordinators, co-parenting coaches, and mental health professionals in your area, who can help you to address your immediate concerns.

As always, but never more profoundly than now, please consider mediating your dispute if no other options have helped. Most mediators are providing mediation services online and remain committed to helping you reach a child-centered resolution.

Stay well. 

Clare Piro Attorney and Mediator

Attorney & Mediator
500 Mamaroneck Avenue | Suite 320
Harrison, NY 10528
Tel: 914.946.0848

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