COVID-19 has turned parents’ lives upside down around the world. In particular, many divorced parents are wondering how to abide by their co-parenting and legal custody agreements. Amidst the outbreak, our team has been asked several important questions, such as:
- How do you successfully co-parent, when everyone is asked to stay home?
- How do you maintain your part of the custody agreement?
- How do you shuttle the children between parents, with an order of Shelter in Place?
- What about college-age “children”?
It’s complex. Many separated or divorced couples are seeking guidance in these chaotic times, and with stay at home orders and fear of exposure, parents are facing new challenges not addressed in current legal orders.
For some divorced couples, this unprecedented crisis has brought them together in a cooperative manner for the higher good.
For others, it is hard to give up time with their children, even in the best interest of the children’s health and safety. While giving up or losing precious time with their children is frustrating, generating ill will creates resentment and stress for everyone involved. Times of crisis call for a spirit of collaboration. Above all, try to minimize disruption and stress on the children.
Risk of Being Exposed | Safety First
Co-parents need to first assess the safety factor, for children going back and forth between parents’ homes. If one parent has been at risk of being exposed, this may necessitate that children remain with the less ‘at-risk’ parent. Parents who are more vulnerable to exposure, due to their work, travel or other risk factors may need to consider visitation options such as FaceTime or phone calls, until the threat level is lowered.
“ Children look to their parents for stability in times of crisis and uncertainty. “
– Leah Hill, Founder Divorce Strategies Northwest
Co-parents who are able to remain at home and are not at risk of exposure should agree upon safety measures and expectations for their children. Children are approved to go back and forth between parents’ residences, assuming that all parties are not at risk of exposure.
With many parents working from home, and children out of school, splitting more time between two homes may be even more feasible and beneficial. With less schedules for children and adults, family time becomes an important cog in the wheel of stress management. Children look to their parents for stability in times of crisis and uncertainty.
7 Rules for Co-Parenting During COVID-19
Titled “Suggested Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic,” these are helpful reminders for co-parents to follow during this time of social distancing, disaster and global pandemic. The seven rules provide clarity and practical advice for how to handle court orders and custody agreements during states of emergency. They call for empathy and generosity— things our children need to see and feel right now.
In times of crisis, rather than following strict rules and regulations, people are the priority. The recommended guidelines are as follows:
1. Be Healthy. Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive handwashing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.
2. Be Mindful. Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave CNN on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.
3. Be Compliant with court orders and custody agreements. As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions, there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school was still in session.
4. Be Creative. At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype.
5. Be Transparent. Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly, both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.
6. Be Generous. Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.
7. Be Understanding. There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.
Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. The most harmful behavior in the long-term is a refusal to be sensible, and focused on the children. For many children, the strange days of the COVID-19 pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents did everything they could to explain what was happening, and to keep their children safe.
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Whether you’re contemplating a divorce, have already started the process, or are far into the proceedings, do you wish you had someone to share with you the inside scoop on how to save money, time and emotional energy on your divorce?
Our team is available for a complimentary virtual consultation to discuss the many scenarios, options and implications of separation or divorce, via telephone or videoconference during this time. Feel free to get in touch with us; we are here for you!