We are all facing uncertainty and unfamiliar territory with the current COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us are balancing working from home while at the same time overseeing our children’s online learning, all the while trying to distance ourselves socially and still maintain our physical and mental health. Add in co-parenting to the list of challenges, and the former list, while daunting, can quickly become overwhelming. Many parents, not only in North Dakota but around the country, are feeling anxious about how to juggle social distancing and self-quarantine when their children are spending time in two different homes. We, like many family law attorneys, are receiving many calls these past few weeks from parents who are being denied parenting time, or who are contemplating violating a custody agreement out of fear and anxiety. Keep these practical points in mind if you are sharing parenting time:
Communication, Collaboration, and Common Ground is Key
The paramount concern for the courts in any custody dispute is the best interests of the children. Parents are well-advised to also ask themselves if the decisions they are making now are what is truly best for their children. As difficult as it may be, now more than ever, parents should attempt to effectively communicate and endeavor to find common ground to safeguard the health and wellbeing of their children.
As workplaces are either closing or allowing employees to work from home, parents may find opportunities to adjust parenting time schedules to minimize the need for external caregivers or the risk of community exposure to the children. Maybe it’s as simple as agreeing to change an exchange time or location temporarily. Maybe it’s agreeing that one parent will reduce his or her time temporarily in order to provide a more risk-free environment for the children. Talk through the concerns and try to find solutions. If you, as parents can work together outside the four corners of your custody agreement, you lessen the stress of the situation not only on yourselves but on your children as well. Please remember that everything “normal” for your children has been suddenly upended. They are no longer seeing friends, able to participate in their activities, and even the normalcy of a school day is suddenly gone. Don’t create more stress for your children by refusing to put them and their needs first.
Unilaterally Choosing to Disregard Your Custody Agreement May Make Matters Worse
Many courts across the country, including in North Dakota, have suspended or delayed hearings temporarily except for limited issues including emergencies. North Dakota has, however, recently developed the Expedited Parenting Time Mediation Program in an effort to provide an alternative way for parents to resolve disputes in light of school closings and limited court operations. If you already have an existing custody order, the terms remain in effect, unless and until modified by subsequent court order. Even so, parents may be tempted to use this pandemic as a basis to withhold parenting time and hope that if further legal action occurs, the court will agree that their actions were reasonable. Doing so may just be throwing fire on the flames of an already tumultuous situation. Regardless of the outcome, unilaterally choosing to simply disregard the terms of your court order instead of attempting to work together will result in additional legal expense, stress to yourself and your children, and could result in an unfavorable ruling. Courts rarely look favorably upon parents who put their own needs before those of their children, presumably even during a pandemic.
If you are having difficulty navigating a shared parenting plan, consider talking with a family law attorney so that you can confidently move forward with a strategy that is beneficial for you and your family. Call us, we can help. Contact attorney Tracy Lyson at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss today either online or by calling 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002.