I received this list of ideas from Dr. Robert A. Simon a few days ago about co-parenting during the CoVID 19 pandemic. He offered these to a list serv of family law attorneys in my area. We are all circling the wagons to figure out ways to help families. Family courts and schools are closed. How, when, where and if we work has shifted. Here in California, we are under stay home orders. Life as we have known it has come to a standstill. And we don’t know for how long. What do we do when cannot be together? I invite you to consider mediation.
Mediation can be scheduled easily. In a virtual capacity, it can be held wherever you are and allows for you and your spouse to begin navigating the issues that you are facing without having to wait. If you already have an attorney, are self-represented, in a divorce or paternity action already, or are still living together and are only just beginning to realize that separation or divorce is on the horizon, mediation is a viable and accessible choice. I am available and offer online mediation. Reach out to me if you have questions about how mediation works and how it works in a virtual setting.
I hope these ideas are helpful to you.
Ten Ideas for Co-Parents During Covid19
Separated parents experience both the joys and stressors of parenting. But additional pressures and stresses such as those associated with the Covid19 Pandemic can be hard to accommodate and provoke anxiety in parent and child alike.
1. Stay Healthy
Model best practice habits (for kids, family and friends) to minimize the risk of spread of the virus – frequent and thorough hand washing and responsible social distancing. Simple routines become habit forming.
Let the other parent know that you (and all members of the household) are following these guidelines – we all worry that others are not taking things as seriously as we should and assurances bring peace of mind and good will. As with all co-parenting, consistent messaging across households is ideal.
2. Be Present and Attentive
This is a serious health challenge. Children will have heard much through their schools, networks and media.
Children are not necessarily able to accurately process all of this information in a way that allows for peace of mind. Older children whose school, social events and sports have been cancelled may be unsettled and anxious. Younger children can readily become confused and scared by perceived magnitudes of risk. Understand that while our children use phones and screens more than we wish, this is a time where their reliance on devices may escalate because of the lack of real-life social interactions. Rules and patience will help.
3. Do Your Best To Meet Your Obligations and Responsibilities
If your parenting matters are governed by court order or agreement, you must still meet your obligations under those terms unless a reasonable explanation applies. If arrangements become unclear or cannot be met (i.e.: quarantine, travel restrictions or because schools close) use common sense to find solutions to challenges. If you anticipate a change, give the other parent plenty of notice and an explanation so they also have time to adjust. Remember that your orders are predicated on the “old normal" [and are still an order of the court].
If schools are closed and exchanges normally take place after and at school or sporting events, suggest or start planning for another neutral and public location that will be suitable – and where social distancing practices can be maintained.
Sporting activities or activities parents planned to do with children during school holidays or weekends are unlikely to now be available. Think about whether you will be required to work from home and whether that is feasible when children are in your care.
If time arrangements with the other parent or important people cannot occur, find other ways to try to maintain the connection – including digital communications.
5. Be open
Try to be on the same page with the other parent about the things you will each do in your respective households (and in your wider communities) to limit exposure to the virus and to shield the children. Work hard at this but remember that your co-parental conflict remains another great risk to children. If need be, agree to disagree.
If a child is showing any symptoms, share this information immediately with the other parent. Reach and agreement about how you wish to respond to the symptoms. Know what your own self- isolation plan will be so that you are able to share that with the other parent if necessary.
Try to engage openly and honestly with the other parent about your worries and if there has been a risk of exposure to the virus, be honest about that. Worry about the other parent “blaming” you or being upset with you are far less important right now than dealing with exposure or risk of exposure to the virus.
6. Remember The Golden Rule
Think about how you would like the other parent to engage with you about these issues, and model that engagement. Make accommodations to the other parent if they are possible and good for the children – and expect such accommodations in return. If something can’t occur at one point, suggest it occur at another point.
All parents and children will benefit from give and take, especially now.
7. Be Compassionate
People may find it hard to be certain with regard to planning in times of stress and may respond to data about risk in ways that may seem disproportionate to you. There is no playbook for how to plan for or respond to this crisis. Being calm in times of high stress is hard – but you are more likely to reduce the conflict if both are making the best effort possible. And even if your co-parent is not making a good effort, your good effort matters and will have a positive impact on the children (and maybe even your co-parent).
8. Be Solution Focused
Focus on solutions rather than problems. At this time, more than ever, it is essential for parents and other adults concerned with the care of children to compromise for the benefit of children. Courts are currently closed and when they re-open, will face an extraordinary level of demand. Common sense coupled with respectful engagement may be the best path.
It’s an opportunity to find new ways to solve old problems.
9. Help Out to the Extent You Can
People may lose jobs or experience a reduction in their income. This may impact what can be paid by way of child support or the contribution to other expenses.
Try to be understanding of the situation the other parent is in – financial worry will probably exist in both households. The message and legacy of these days should be, as far as possible, that both parents and households worked together to find a solution that was as good as possible for the children. This can and will be a gift to your children and even to yourselves.
10.Be Patient and Positive
This situation is not going to resolve overnight. Changes to the way we work, socialize, communicate and parent will come in the next few weeks and months.
Make a conscious effort to embrace the good and joyful moments in each day, stay connected by phone or social media to friends or family who can support you and remember that you are the beacon and role model for your children at this time. Be sure to tell the people you love just how much you love them and how important they are to you.
I hope that these ideas help.
These are offered for informational purposes only and not intended as legal advice, nor are they intended to replace any court orders that may be in place for your family. A court ordered parenting plan is still an order of the court and should be followed unless parents mutually agree otherwise. When in doubt, follow the orders of the court.