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stay home strategy

Separated and divorced parents are sorting out what Arizona’s new “stay-at-home” order means for their court-ordered Parenting Plan. Will this change our parenting time schedule? Does this mean we can no longer exchange the children between us? Is “legal decision-making authority” affected?

The short legal answer is likely, “no.” The more realistic answer is, “probably.”

Arizona’s stay-at-home order does not relax child custody orders. But in reality, strict compliance with custody arrangements may not be possible. Parents are rapidly adapting to working and schooling from home while public places are closed, and serious health and safety risks affect all aspects of parenting. Stress levels are rising. Many parents are unable to agree on basic issues causing conflict to skyrocket.

Family courts are not equipped to handle the volume or types of issues parents need to address. Courts are backlogged and unable to hear cases. Litigation over these issues is also harmful to the emotional well-being of parents and children.

“Temporary agreements” between parents to modify custody orders are almost inevitable. Online Parenting Mediation in Arizona offers co-parents the opportunity to work together with the guidance of a professional family mediator to resolve disagreements in a quick, successful, and affordable manner. At The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation, we are experiencing an uptick in online mediations of COVID-19 related parenting issues.

Here are some solutions based on what our experiences thus far have taught us:

Can we agree to temporarily change our parenting time schedules?

Yes. Parents can mutually agree to change their time-sharing arrangements to meet their specific needs. Some parents are moving to a “week-on / week off” schedule to minimize child exchanges. Others are temporarily establishing one parent as the “weekday parent” and the other as the “weekend parent.” One parent may focus on “schooling” children at home while the other works during the week.

Parents can also agree to a liberal Facetime schedule so both parents stay in communication with the children each and every day. These could occur even several times per day.

How often should we review our temporary modifications to our parenting time agreement?

There is no set rule. Parents can agree as to how often and under what circumstances they will review their temporary modifications. We have seen parents agree to reassess their agreements once per week, once per month, or upon the happening of specific events.

Can we agree to “make-up” parenting time in the future, if one of us temporarily gets more time with the kids?

Yes. To reduce conflict and provide peace of mind, parents can proactively agree that any parenting time missed during the crisis will be “made-up” in the future. Parents can informally agree to this or they can choose to have documents filed with the court to ensure that the agreement is honored.

With everyone in the house 24/7, how can we navigate working and schooling from home?

Daily schedules will be greatly influenced by the children’s ages and routines. Don’t expect things to go smoothly at first — they likely won’t. This is a trial-and-error process. Start by working with your co-parent to assess each of your needs. Then work together to establish a daily routine for the children. A mediator can help. If possible, modify your schedules. Work before the kids get up in the morning or take a longer, mid-day break to do some homeschooling.

How can we transfer the kids from one parent to the other, and should we be transferring them at all right now?

Parents may need to change their usual pick-up and drop-off routines. Consider meeting at a park or quiet parking lot. This allows you to maintain a safe distance from one another while swapping the kids. Make a game of it! Challenge the kids to race to the other parent or to hop, skip, and jump the entire way.

How can we agree to hygiene rules for both of our houses?

This is a sensitive issue. Be careful when discussing hygiene concerns and avoid personal attacks. The goal is to ensure safety. Parents can agree on general house cleaning protocols and how to educate children about proper hygiene. Parents can also work together to make sure they both have the supplies they need.

How do we establish boundaries around who we are all exposed to during the pandemic?

Parents can create a list of the people with whom they and their children can have contact, such as caregivers and/or extended family. They might agree to no third-party contact at all. Parents can agree to update and modify this temporary measure as needed.

How will we agree upon children having in-person contact with “at-risk” loved ones?

Child contact with elderly family members is a recurring issue. If you and your co-parent do not agree, find a compromise, such as having visits that adhere to social distancing guidelines. In the end, come up with your own personalized rules that work best for your situation.. Help your kids arrange a game of ‘socially-distant’ Yahtzee or Battleship with Grandpa or a virtual baking lesson with Grandma.

Make the choice to work together. Divorced parents should seize the opportunity to set aside past differences and find solutions that work best for them and their children. Coronavirus will pass, but your co-parenting relationship may be positively affected forever.

Michael Aurit is a Professional Divorce Mediator, Arizona attorney, and Co-Founder of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation. He can be reached at michael@auritmediation.com

Karen Aurit is an Arizona Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist and Co-Founder of The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation. She can be reached at karen@auritmediation.com

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