For just about 10 months now, we have been living through unprecedented times. Most businesses are still closed or operating with restrictions, some schools are still remote, and life overall really hasn’t gone back to “normal,” as many expected it would have by now.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families have discovered that previously stable arrangements may not be able to withstand the stresses created by these changes. Divorce rates have skyrocketed. And for previously divorced families whose co-parenting and custody arrangements were already contentious, these changes may be intensifying conflicts and creating new ones.
While a crisis like this can certainly be stressful, it can also be a good time for both parents to overcome their differences and work together. Here are some tips for co-parenting during a pandemic:
- Stay Informed and In Touch
Because there is so much uncertainty that comes with a pandemic, it’s crucial that both parents stay informed. Parents should periodically check official state and local websites, making sure that they are up to date on COVID-19 guidelines. Parents should also check their child’s school website frequently, taking note of any closures or schedule changes that may be happening.
It’s also essential that both parents keep communication open as much as possible throughout the pandemic. Parents are understandably nervous for the health and safety of themselves and their child. Keeping the other parent in-the-loop and answering their calls, texts, or emails in a timely manner can help alleviate some of the stress and anxiety. If you or your child are feeling sick, or if you think you or your child may have been exposed to COVID-19, be up front with the other parent and let them know immediately.
- Follow Your Parenting Plan and Talk Through Possible Schedule Changes
Parents should continue to comply with existing parenting time orders as much as possible. Failure to comply with court-ordered parenting time may lead to being held in contempt of court.
In certain circumstances, however, it may not be possible or realistic to comply with existing parenting time orders. Perhaps one parent lives in another state, has a compromised immune system, or is an essential worker. Maybe one parent is actually sick with COVID-19 or has been exposed to the virus. In circumstances like those, it may be in the best interest of your child to be flexible and renegotiate custody and visitation schedules.
Parents should use common sense to navigate these difficult circumstances. While the idea of seeing your child less may be upsetting, understand that the pandemic will not last forever. It’s okay to make modifications to your parenting plan in times of crisis to do what’s best for your child.
If parents need to temporarily make changes to their visitation schedule for whatever reason, consider using technology to maintain communication and interaction between the parent and child as much as possible. Emails and text messages are quick and efficient, and there are even court-approved apps (such as ourfamilywizard.com) that make communication between parents easier and less contentious. Parents should also try to agree on a make-up schedule for lost in-person parenting time.
If parenting time hasn’t changed for your family, consider creating a backup plan in case it needs to. Talk about what would happen in the event one parent gets sick or is exposed; the child gets sick or is exposed; school closes again; etc. This way, if something happens, you’ll already have a plan.
- Talk to Your Child
Check in with your child! They are living through intense periods of change and uncertainty, and that can be really difficult for them. Be there for them. Understand that there are varied ways children deal with stress and anxiety. Listen to their concerns and be supportive and empathetic. Make sure not to give them too much information about court cases or parental disputes. And be careful not to bad mouth the other parent to your children. They need permission to love you both.
Now is the time to try to be the best parent you can under the circumstances. Reassure your child that we will get through this, that some changes are only temporary, and most importantly, that they are loved and cared for.
- Take Care of You
Co-parenting during a pandemic can be exhausting. While you probably feel like you are focusing most of your attention on your child’s needs, don’t forget to practice a little self-care. Take a little time for yourself each day, even if it’s just a few minutes to meditate, do yoga, or take a bath.
Get help if you need it. If you’re feeling anxious or overwhelmed, consider counseling or therapy. Support from a mental health professional can really help. Working these issues out can allow parents to better care for their families.
Most importantly, be compassionate with yourself. You are human and you are living through unprecedented times. It can certainly be hard at times, but you can and will get through it.
- Figure Out What Works Best for You!
“Different strokes for different folks,” as they say! There is no correct way to co-parent during a pandemic. Work with your ex to figure out what works best for you both, and your child. This pandemic is a perfect opportunity for co-parents to come together and make decisions in the best interest of the child they both love.
By: Logan Matura
At the Law Firm of Gary J. Frank P.C., Gary Frank, Hanna Amar, and Logan Matura are strong litigators and compassionate counselors. Gary Frank is a Family Law Attorney with over 30 years of experience as a litigator and mediator. He has also acted in the capacity of a Judge Pro Tempore in the Maricopa County Superior Court, and served on the Governor’s Child Abuse Prevention Task Force. Law firm Partner, Hanna Amar ,is a highly-skilled attorney with a passion for Family Law and children’s issues. She has extensive courtroom experience, and is also a certified mediator. Hanna has also acted as the President of the Young Lawyer’s Division of the Maricopa County Bar Association. Associate Attorney Logan Matura received her Juris Doctor degree from New York Law School in Manhatten, NY. While in law school, she served as an intern for a Family Court judge in the Bronx, NY, and was a member of the Family Attorneys Mobilizing club. Our firm handles Family Law cases in the areas of divorce, custody (now called “Legal Decision-Making and Parenting Time), relocation (move-away), division of property, spousal and child support, modification actions, enforcement actions, grandparent and step-parent and non-parent rights, as well as other matters pertaining to families and children. If you are in need of a consultation, call us today at 602-383-3610; or you can contact us by email through our website at www.garyfranklaw.com. We look forward to hearing from you.