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Co-Parenting in a COVID-19 World

On Behalf of | Apr 15, 2020 | Family Law

Co-Parenting in COVID-19 Don’t have time to read a full blog? Here’s a Cheat Sheet:
1) When in doubt: Follow the Judgment! If you do not follow the judgment be prepared to defend yourself and explain why you didn’t follow your judgment in a court of law later. Call an attorney to assess your risk and challenges.
2) If necessary, utilize available mediation programs or engage third party dispute resolution mechanisms. In North Dakota, you can now apply for expedited mediation. If you have an assigned parenting expeditor, engage their services.
3) Don’t wait for issues to boil over – discuss the obvious issues that are coming over the next few months. Take a step back and look at your individual situation – what is coming up over the next few months and how will COVID-19 impact things?
4) Document and stay engaged with your child. Parenting plans are rarely bullet proof. It is virtually impossible to plan for every custody issue that may occur when parenting children. This is especially true if multiple children are involved. The old saying “if you’ve raised one child, you’ve raised one child” comes to mind. As family law attorneys, we do our best to see into the future, learn from our past cases, and build a comprehensive parenting plan that hopefully contemplates most of the foreseeable issues. However, no one foresaw this. No one expected a global pandemic. Pandemics are something that only happened in “the olden days,” right? Well, here we are. And millions of co-parents are struggling to navigate this terrain.

“Pandemics are something that only happened in “the olden days,” right? Well, here we are. And millions of co-parents are struggling to navigate this terrain.”

Tips and Resources to Navigate the New Normal

If you need assistance, I strongly encourage you to call your lawyer. Although that may sound self-serving (“Oh big shocker a lawyer is recommending I call – and pay – for a lawyer’s advice!”), but it truly could save you a ton of money in the long run. Lawyers know the latest directives from the court, which at this point are changing weekly. Lawyers know the temperature of the courts and how they have ruled on similar situations. Calling a lawyer can help you to see a new perspective and to know what your risks are moving forward.

If you have a Minnesota Judgment and have been assigned a parenting expeditor, engage their services. Their fees will be well worth it if you can avoid litigation and additional stress during this already stressful time. Contacting local arbitrators or mediators for a consult is a good idea as well.

In North Dakota, the Supreme Court has enacted the “Expedited Mediation Program.” If you have a current North Dakota Judgment (in other words, this does not apply to co-parents going through the initial process of divorce or establishing a judgment), you may apply for “expedited mediation.” There are many differences between the “expedited program” and the regular mediation program which is mandated by the state when there are conflicts involving children.

For starters, the expedited program is not mandatory. Both parties must voluntarily agree to participate willingly and in good faith. Second, you will only receive one hour of free mediation.

Third, your mediation will happen within 7 days and will occur electronically rather than in person.

Here’s how the process works:

Step One: Go to: https://www.ndcourts.gov/legal-self-help/request-for-expedited-parenting-time-mediation

Step Two: Fill out the form and submit. Remember that this is a voluntary process so you must get the other’s party’s consent first. Getting that consent IN WRITING is highly recommended.

Step Three: Get your thoughts together. There is limited time to mediate and now is not the time to hash out what the issues are. Come up with a reasonable plan moving forward so that mediation can start off on the right foot. For example, if you believe that other parent should legitimately lose a significant amount of parenting time, what is your plan for that parent to make up their time? Coming to the table with good faith ideas can ensure your mediation is successful.

Step Four: Work with the assigned mediator to ensure you have the necessary technology to make mediation successful. Test out your technology so that you aren’t hit with last minute technical issues. Again, this is an already stressful time, and nothing adds last minute stress like technical issues.

Step Five: Engage in mediation. If it goes well, make sure your agreement is memorialized in writing and signed. If you are unable to come to an agreement you should default to following your judgment. If you absolutely do not believe that you can follow your judgment, you need to be prepared to defend your actions in court. Again, this is where consulting an attorney becomes vital. An attorney can help you assess your risk.

There are many unknowns in the next few months, however, you know right now (yes, right now) that summer activities may be (and are likely to be) cancelled. You know right now that your daycare may not be reopening for at least a month. You know right now that traveling for Mother’s Day may be difficult or dangerous. Get your calendar out and anticipate these issues.

Brainstorm solutions and engage in difficult conversations early so the issues do not boil over at the last minute. Document your conversations and try to do as much of it in writing as possible.

If the ultimate decision is for you to spend less time with your children (perhaps you are an essential worker who is exposed to COVID on a regular basis), remember that there are many tools that allow you to stay engaged with your child even when you aren’t in the same room.

Discuss a schedule for regular facetiming, texting, phone calls, etc. At the end of the day, you are still their parent and they need to know you are ok and still there for them.

If you have any questions regarding co-parenting, please reach out to our Family Law attorneys at Nilson Brand Law at (701) 786-6040. We can discuss your situation. Or feel free to email [email protected]

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