Adapting to Summer Co-Parenting during COVID-19

As the summer of 2020 heats up, parents are faced with a challenging environment during COVID-19. Many parenting agreements make a provision for extra parenting time during the summer months, and many families have the long-standing tradition of sending the kids to summer camps or going on vacation. Unfortunately, many camps and travel plans have been impacted, if not cancelled, due to the spread of COVID-19. Lots of parents have also seen a change in their employment status or are working from home due to the virus, which adds to the stress. The combination of the added stress of eLearning, cancelled summer plans, and changes at work have left many families in a state of disarray.

Parents are having to adapt, which can be difficult for co-parents who are accustomed to following a written parenting agreement.

Generally, parenting agreements are drafted in a way that makes co-parenting less stressful on the parties and allows for a certain degree of flexibility. Illinois law was written with the same considerations in mind. The Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act and the Illinois Parentage Act both apply the “best interest of the child” standard when approaching parenting issues. The Acts give several factors to use in determining the “best interest of the child.” In these unprecedented times, three of these factors have become particularly relevant: (1) the mental and physical health of all individuals involved, (2) the willingness and ability of each parent to place the needs of the child ahead of his or her own needs, and (3) any other factor that the court expressly finds to be relevant.

It is important to remember that parenting agreements are always modifiable as to parenting time. The parties can come to a different agreement other than what the written parenting agreement states or have a court make a ruling on the issue of modified parenting time. With the courts moving most hearings to Zoom and limiting in-person hearings, alternatives (such as mediation) will almost assuredly be a quicker and more cost-effective way for most parties to resolve disputes.

During times like these, it is important for co-parents to cooperate and be understanding of the unusual challenges of eLearning, cancelled summer camps, changed or cancelled vacation plans, and changes in routine. The health and safety of all family members should be considered when making changes to established co-parenting routines in order to comply with current CDC guidelines and Chicago’s reopening plan. Flexibility is paramount as these guidelines and plans can rapidly change.

During this summer especially, flexibility and understanding, with a focus on what is in the best interest of your child, is critical to successful co-parenting. Co-Parenting issues are stressful, and 2020 has already been a high-stress year. Keeping the focus on the best interest of the child and on everyone’s health and safety will help to keep summertime stress to a minimum.