Co-Parenting and COVID-19: Mediating Child Custody Disputes
With many Massachusetts courts closed to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, mediation has become an effective way to enforce or adjust custody arrangements. Parents are finding that mediation can assist them in reaching an agreement even if they are not able to meet face to face to discuss their parenting arrangements.
Many single and separated parents have genuine concerns about their child’s health during the coronavirus. Some of these concerns stem from the child’s transition from one parent’s home to the other. This may include concerns about who has the other parent been exposed to and if they have taken the same level of precaution to remain virus free. Meanwhile, other concerns arise out of the degree to which one parent may be embracing “reopening” – in the form of haircuts, camps, and dining out – while the other parent takes a more conservative approach to distancing.
Disagreements over withholding parenting time due to coronavirus concerns have become common, both in Massachusetts and throughout the rest of the country. To add to the confusion, many parents find themselves facing disproportionate risks. One parent may have an elderly family member in the home who is particularly vulnerable to the virus. Another parent may be returning to work full-time, necessitating the risks involved with childcare and summer camp for children.
Due to the Coronavirus, courthouses in Massachusetts are still closed to regular business, and the majority of hearings are being held on matters deemed to be an “emergency.” In many cases, disputes over parenting time do not rise to the level of a true emergency necessary to get before a judge. Unfortunately, this means that the court is effectively closed to parents who are being denied their parenting time by the custodial parent, or who have serious concerns about their child’s well-being while they are with the other parent. Given the massive backlog of cases that has built up since the shutdown began, obtaining relief through the courts is likely to remain slow well into the fall and winter.
Many custody disputes are grounded in legitimate concerns about the child’s well-being shared by both parents. When parents both recognize a risk, filing an emergency motion is not always necessary. Instead, parents can resolve their differences by mutual agreement without the need for an adversarial court hearing and judge’s ruling. Even for parents who disagree, alternatives to litigation exist.
Mediation can help parents quickly resolve their parenting disputes with out-of-court agreements that protect both parents and children and serve as a temporary custody arrangement for the duration of the crisis.
Perhaps best of all, this can all be done through video mediation, using common platforms like Zoom or Skype. This gives parents flexibility – both in time and location – minimizing the in-person contact that can spread the virus while providing the face-to-face communication which is necessary when dealing with the best interests of the children. Mediation is a far better resource for parents to utilize in this uncertain time rather than trying to file an emergency motion which may not be deemed a true emergency and therefore not be heard by the judge causing further stress and discord between parents.
For more information or to schedule a free, no-obligation, private, confidential consultation visit FalmouthMediation.com or call 508-566-4159.