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Many were surprised by the news that Bruce Willis has been quarantining with his ex-wife, Demi Moore, and their daughters, as opposed to Willis’ current wife and youngest two children. One of Willis’ daughters explained that Willis’ current wife and youngest two children were expected to join Moore and the eldest daughters but got stuck in Los Angeles.
Willis is not the only one who, according to rumor mills, is quarantining with an ex. Khloe Kardashian and her ex, and the father of her child, Tristan Thompson were also said to be spending time together in Kardashian’s home not because they are getting back together but in order to effectively co-parent. Additionally, Wayne Brady and his ex-wife Mandie Taketa have been quarantining “between both of our homes,” according to Brady, as the parties’ share a 17-year-old daughter and live near each other.
Dr. Sarah Gundle, a psychologist who was interviewed for an article by Peggy Drexler in the The Wall Street Journal reports that even though many may assume that co-parenting would get harder during “a time of great stress and fear,” sometimes it has the opposite effect. Dr. Grundle mentioned that after Hurricane Katrina, she witnessed individuals coming together, and that “kindness is distilling into co-parenting”
Dr. Dori Gatter, another psychologist quoted in the same article, pointed out that shared experiences, including an emergency, can build connection. She stated that an emergency can take the focus off personal conflict and put the focus on needing each other and coming together, which she states is instinctual. She states parents have a shared interest in such a situation, and that interest is their shared child. She also indicated that individuals may be more prone to empathy during emergencies.
Effective co-parenting is, in the absence of abuse, generally better for children. In a study by Claire M. Kamp Dush, Letitia E. Kolita, and Sarah J. Schoppe-Sullivan for the Journal of Family Psychology, data was collected from nearly 5,000 parents in the United State between 1998 and 2000. They noted that effective co-parenting does not mean a just a relationship devoid of “destructive conflict,” but means parents who can actively cooperate and communicate with each other. They also noted that cooperating co-parenting may lead to more positive father involvement and less conflict between parents, which have been linked to children’s “behavioral outcomes, academic achievement, and psychological well-being.”
The study states that some key ingredients for a good co-parenting relationship include “joint investment in the child, valuing the importance of the other parent for the child’s growth and development, respecting the judgments of the other parent, and ongoing communication regarding the child’s needs.” In one study they examined from 1990, only about a quarter of couples studied were co-parenting effectively in their second year post-divorce. This means that very often, good co-parenting skills can take time to develop after a separation.
There were some factors found that gave context to whether a couple successfully co-parenting or not. They found parents with “higher prebirth marital quality,” that is, a more satisfactory marriage prior to divorce, were more likely to form good co-parenting relationships than those with a lower marital quality. They also found that more conflict at the onset of divorce proceedings often resulted in less cooperative co-parenting 18 months later.
For non-married couples, it was actually found that parents less committed to the prebirth relationship were more likely to cooperatively co-parent after separation, though they found when there is a lower level of “relationship commitment,” parents may disengage over time. Additionally, due to the absence of formal court proceedings in non-married parent custody situations, sometimes one parent may lack involvement in a child’s life at all, which negatively impacts co-parenting.
The study also noted that when one parent – particularly mothers – find a new partner, a co-parenting relationship can suffer. They noted that in one study, unmarried fathers reported less successful co-parenting after the mother of their child entered into a new romantic relationship.
Interestingly, the child in and of itself may affect the parents’ abilities to co-parent. Some studies have found that parents of children who were described as “more difficult” reported less supportive co-parenting, though other studies have found no associations between a child’s temperament and co-parenting. Though some studies have reported no differences in co-parenting based on the child’s gender, some studies have found that parents of male children report better co-parenting.
While the COVID-19 crisis has helped some parents co-parent better, as stated in the examples given above, it has also exacerbated underlying co-parenting issues between some higher-conflict parents. First, there are concerns about following the guidelines laid out by state governments. For those with shared custody, this means having to leave the house for child exchanging, and having children carry items back and forth between homes. Some parents may worry about leaving the house at all
There can also be issues if one parent is unemployed or employed in a capacity that allows them to work from home, and the other parent is an essential worker who must still go to work. The non-working parent may want to prevent the other parent from having their custodial time with the child for fear they will transmit the virus to the child, who will then bring it back to the other parent’s home.
The current emergency can also make parents anxious to be away from their children for extended periods of time. A more anxious parent may fear the other parent is not appropriately social distancing. The less anxious parent may believe the other parent is unreasonably paranoid. One parent may allow a child to play with a friend outside, or take the child with them to the grocery store. The other parent may find that behavior unreasonably reckless. Parents may disagree as to the interpretation of Governor’s orders.
New Jersey physician Dr. Bertha Mayorquin was the subject of a New York Times story in April 2020, and gave her account of her soon-to-be ex-husband obtaining sole temporary custody of the children because she agreed to treat patients at her hospital’s request. The order was eventually reversed by the court, but only after Dr. Mayorquin agreed to stop seeing patients in person and go back to teleworking.
Dealing with custody issues during this pandemic is uncharted territory for parents and attorneys alike. If you have been denied time with your children, or have fears about releasing your children to another parent, an experienced family law attorney can help guide you to whatever decision is right for you.

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