“We are all in this together” – meaning the COVID-19 pandemic. But are we really? Spouses with young children who are in the very early stages of separation will have very different issues and stresses to deal with in comparison to spouses, with or without children, who have been separated for a significant period of time. The process of separation is hard enough in good economic times but now add the medical and financial uncertainties created by the COVID-19 virus and it is easy to see how parental conflicts could easily spiral out of control.
As an added stressor, the Ontario court system is virtually shut down and not hearing any cases unless there is significant urgency involved. The courts have created a makeshift system to deal with such urgent cases using only written documentation and telephone conferences with the parties and their lawyers if they have lawyers.
Many, I hope most, separating parents want to be able to “co-parent” their children. Whether this turns out to be feasible will depend on many factors and considerations.
Co-parenting is NOT the amount of time each parent spends with their children. Rather, it is a cooperative working relationship between the parents in which they can communicate and collaborate in dealing with the significant long term and mundane day-to-day tasks that all parents need to take care of in raising children. This could be deciding on extracurricular activities and which parent is going to get the children to and from the activities. It could be choosing a dentist, doctor, school, etc for the children and who is going to make the appointments and help out with the school field trips, etc.. So you can see, co-parenting is sort of parenting together even though you are apart.
In order to have a high likelihood for successful co-parenting, social scientists have identified a number of factors that, ideally, should be present in the parents’ relationship. These factors include:
- A lack of animosity between parents
- A shared value of the importance of co-parenting
- Trust between the parents
- Respect for each other
- Good communication between parents
While all of these characteristics may not exist in a particular set of separating parents and the degree of presence or absence of one or more of these characteristics may vary between separating parents; with appropriate guidance, work and motivation separating parents can improve and increase the presence of these factors in their separated relationship.
Mediation has been shown to be a very effective process to assist parents in developing the skills and tools to co-parent, especially if used in the early stages of separation. For example, with the assistance of a skilled mediator, parents can be provided with opportunities to practice better communication, remain child-centered in their discussions and increase their respect and trust in each other.
The current COVID-19 virus and the “social distancing” practices that we all have been directed to do put another level of complexity on parents wanting to co-parent and impose additional challenges for mediators assisting parents. However, with current technologies such as the ZOOM video conferencing program, mediators and parents can continue to “meet”, communicate and work on the issues they are facing in regards to their children. This is often referred to as “distance mediation”.
We are all struggling with a number of unknowns at the present and probably will continue to struggle with some unknowns for the weeks and months to come. Mediators are trained to “think outside of the box” and thus are uniquely situated to assist parents as they struggle with coming up with a “new normal” for the parenting arrangements for their children.
The mediators and arbitrators at Barriston have the necessary technology support and experience to assist separating and separated parents in working through the types of issues mentioned above.
Douglas J. Manning