Co-Parenting Through COVID-19
Co-parenting is the term that refers to the parenting of children that continues after separation or divorce. Sometimes co-parenting is relatively seamless, and other times co-parents face situations that make navigating their parenting plans more difficult.
The COVID-19 pandemic creates some unique challenges for co-parents. We have provided some points for co-parents to consider in order to decide whether to follow or modify existing parenting time.
The word “Parenting Plan” refers to the parenting arrangements between co-parents, and usually sets out a schedule for parenting time. A parenting plan can be set out in either a written agreement between the parents or a court order. By law, parenting plans must be centred around the best interests of the children. While these plans can and do change from time to time, modifications to the plan must be by agreement or court order. The COVID-19 pandemic directly affects the health and well-being of children. As a result, co-parents should consider whether modifications to the existing plan are needed to protect the health and well being of the children during this time.
Should we change our parenting plan?
Dr. Michael Elterman, a clinical forensic psychologist and one of British Columbia’s leading experts on parenting arrangements has released a set of guidelines for family lawyers and co-parents to keep in mind during this time. While the pandemic itself should not prevent a parent from following the existing agreement or court order, there are a few situations in which parenting time with one parent should be suspended:
- A parent is infected or otherwise ill with symptoms similar to COVID-19 or otherwise needs to be tested;
- A parent is in a home with persons who are immunocompromised;
- A parent is required to exercise their regular parenting time in a public place by an agreement or order;
- A parent requires a supervisor who is not the spouse of the parent and also living in the same home as the parent.
In addition, parents who have been in contact with an infected person and those who continue work in an essential service with the public will impose an increased risk to the child’s health and safety. The parents should disclose these or any other risk factors to each other immediately and do their best to agree upon a safer arrangement for the children.
How do we change our parenting plan during the pandemic?
If a parent believes that their existing plan poses a risk of COVID-19 exposure to the child, they should consider whether changes to the plan are enough to minimize the child’s risk, or whether one parent’s time should be temporarily suspended. Often co-parents can discuss their concerns with each other and agree to a modified schedule. Such changes are temporary, and the former schedule would be back in place once the health and safety restrictions are relaxed.
Co-parents who are unable to agree on necessary changes have several options. First, they can consult a family lawyer for legal advice on changes to the plan that would decrease the risk to the child. The lawyer can also assist that parent with communicating their concerns and suggestions to the other parent.
If a parent is unable to reach an agreement with their co-parent in this way, they should consider whether a court application or a mediation and/or arbitration should be held. Currently, the British Columbia Provincial and Supreme Courts are restricting applications to urgent matters. In order to schedule a hearing, the court must first decide that the concern with the current parenting plan is immediate and poses a serious risk to the health or safety of the child.
Finally, mediation is an excellent alternative to court. Many mediators are now equipped to hold mediations through video conferencing in compliance with social distancing protocols. In many cases, co-parents can reach an agreement during mediation. Arbitrations may also be held remotely, and will result in a final decision.
While a mediation succeeds when the parties reach an agreement, arbitration will impose a decision on the parties after considering all of the facts. In order to proceed to a mediation or an arbitration, both parties must agree to enter into the process.
If you are concerned that your parenting plan is causing an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 to your child, our family lawyers are available to meet with you and provide an opinion. You may also contact our family law mediator to discuss whether this process is right for you.
© Krista Lidstone, Linley Welwood LLP
The contents of this article do not constitute legal advice. Readers should seek legal advice in relation to their own specific circumstances.