Thirteen times the Arizona Supreme Court urged divorced parents to reach their own temporary agreements to cope with the COVID-19 crisis, according to the Court’s Parenting Time Guidelines issued earlier this month.
Divorced and separated parents in Arizona have encountered skyrocketing conflict while awaiting the Court’s guidance on how child custody arrangements may be affected by the Governor’s Stay-at-Home Order and social distancing protocols.
The Arizona Supreme Court proclaimed:
- Co-parents must abide by existing Family Court parenting time orders as if their children were still attending school unless parents agree to a modification.
- Grandparent visitation orders must be obeyed unless the parents agree to deviate from the orders.
- The Stay-at-Home mandate does not allow one parent to withhold a child from the other parent unless co-parents mutually agree.
- A parent with sole legal custody or final decision-making authority does not have authority to unilaterally change a parenting plan unless — you guessed it — there is mutual agreement.
Courts in Arizona have long been supportive of parents using family mediation to reach out-of-court agreements. But never before have Arizona courts encountered such a massive and simultaneous demand for court intervention. And never before have they been so backlogged and limited in their ability to render decisions.
The Court’s answer to this increase in demand for services: Compromise.
Although a compromise is often easier said than done, it is likely the only way for parents to get through these times and best protect the interests of their children.
COVID-19s poses an obvious health risk to all families. The intensified conflict between parents also directly threatens the health and emotional well-being of children.
The Court’s Guidelines acknowledge that some current arrangements are simply not workable under the circumstances. They encourage parents to “discuss” temporary modifications and “work together” to consider agreeing on issues before seeking court intervention. In reality, the Court does not have all the answers. Neither do attorneys. The answers rest with parents themselves.
Our mediation center has seen a surge of parents requesting our help with reaching agreements on COVID-19 related issues. Co-parents are concerned about the other parent and their children having third party contact. They are fearful their co-parent will violate social distancing recommendations. For parents who travel for work, any parental contact with children is coming into question. Conflicts related to both parents working from home are common. Issues related to schooling children from home are also a hotspot.
With the help of a Mediator, parents are capable of sitting together to create temporary solutions. Agreements we have seen in online mediation have ranged in their outcomes, but all have been successful and each is personalized to the needs of their family.
While resolving issues, parents can agree that any agreement reached:
- Is temporary for a specific period of time;
- Does not set any precedent; and
- Can not be used against the other parent at a later date.
Make the choice to work together. Seize the opportunity to set aside past differences and find solutions that work best for you and your children. Coronavirus will pass, but your co-parenting relationship may be positively (or negatively) affected forever.
Michael Aurit is Co-Founder of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation, President of The Academy of Professional Family Mediators and an Adjunct Professor at Arizona State University Sandra Day O’Connor School of Law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org