School’s back in session, so now may be the time to review your current co-parenting plan. Changes in your kid’s schedule can present challenges when navigating child custody. If you are co-parenting with a former spouse or significant other, there can be significant challenges along the way depending on the quality of your relationship with your ex-partner.

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What Is Co-Parenting?

“Positive co-parenting is the shared responsibilities, goals, and collaboration between two individuals who work together to ensure the positive development of a child,” explains the Office of Adolescent Health, which is part of the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Co-parenting can include decisions such as housing, schooling, medical care and much more. However, co-parenting may be negative “when both adults undermine each other’s authority, and there is hostility, conflict, and disagreements between both caregivers.” Co-parenting can happen between married or unmarried couples, biological parents, as well as step-parents, significant others and other family members.

When children are exposed to a proactive and positive example of co-parenting, they are less likely to show externalized warning signs to bad behavior patterns in the future such as aggression or hyperactivity. Negative co-parenting is associated with increased problem behaviors, more limited social skills and can negatively halt a child’s cognitive development.

What About Co-Parenting During the Pandemic?

Co-parenting is a challenge itself, but what about the added stress that comes with COVID-19? In a panel by Best Lawyers addressing COVID-19 and Family Law, Randy Fuerst, founder of Fuerst, Carrier & Ogden, says to "be kind and cooperate. Continue to operate under your plan that you have now and adjust for the fact that kids are out of school and allow the other parent to have time if they’ve been a good parent otherwise."

But in cases with healthcare workers present in the family, the other parent may fear exposure to the virus and the effect it could have on the child. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the COVID-19 infection rate is at its lowest point since March of 2020, when the virus began. Regardless, Fuerst's advice to parents who are trying to follow a joint-custody agreement while being health conscious is that "in the event of infection, you just have to assume that the home of the other parent is safe and move forward from there for the safety of the child."

What’s the Best Way to Co-Parent?

The best way to co-parent is to have open communications with your fellow co-parent, regardless of your relationship with them. However, in cases with a lack of parental communication, lawyers recommend to make sure to get any agreements in writing. Currently, there are a variety of co-parenting apps available that can be used to keep track of text conversations and track whether people log into the app to delete messages. Text conversations can be printed out and brought to court for the judge to review, acting as a means of accountability in a co-parenting situation. Going to court on every issue can be expensive, time-consuming and overall a stressful experience for both parents and children.

When Should I Get an Attorney Involved?

If communications are not working and leading to disputes, you may want to consider hiring an attorney. For instance, if one parent is not fulfilling the terms of the agreement or acts in bad faith by purposefully, going to court may be a necessary option. In cases where a court motion isn’t followed, you could face a motion for enforcement and eventually face a judge to settle who’s in violation of the court order. In some cases, a violation could result in jail time or monetary fines such as paying an ex-partner’s legal fees. “Try to co-parent. It’s better for you and your child. You don’t have to like them. If you had a child with the person, that other person is always going to be the other parent,” explained Fuerst.