UPDATE: Chief Justice John D. Casey sends open letter about parenting together during COVID-19:
“In times like these, when society is exposed to threats once believed unimaginable, the rule of law is more important than ever … parenting missions are not sustaining during this period. In fact, it’s important that children spend time with both parents and each parent has the option to engage in family activities if so provided by court order. In cases where one parent is required to quarantine themselves or are otherwise excluded from contact with others, both parents should work together to do so to enable parental leave via video conference or telephone. “
Additional resources became available during this crisis. Please scroll to the bottom of this post for more resources.
Co-Parenting in Crisis: COVID-19 and Beyond
by Jennifer Hawthorne
Mediators and collaborative professionals work with parents to create a realistic and practical parenting plan that is detailed enough to provide a roadmap for parents but flexible enough to accommodate changes in new circumstances.
However, sometimes even the best reality tests fail because life throws situations at us that may have been unimaginable when the parenting plan was created. What we are all going through now with the COVID-19 pandemic and the social distancing it has brought about surely goes beyond what most of us imagined while we were alive. That only happens in dystopian films and novels, doesn’t it?
For families living in two houses, the social distancing and possible government imposition of full quarantine, as it is already in place in Italy and China, poses challenges related to maintaining health, distance from others, and security that you have enough food, go outside and toilet paper to get you through the next two or more weeks.
For parents, this also means at least thinking about the following:
- When and how should your kids move between homes during times of social distancing?
- Should the children bring things back and forth?
- Is there a consensus on who is allowed to get near the kids during this time of social distancing and who each parent will be around to allow proper follow-up if either parent or the kids show signs of illness? (Significant others, other children in the household, grandparents, etc.)
- What is the plan if a parent shows signs of illness during parental leave?
- What is the plan if a parent shows signs of illness while off parental leave?
- What is the backup plan if both parents show signs of illness at the same time?
- What if a child gets sick?
- What if both parents are hospitalized?
- Do you both have a list of emergency child care providers?
- Do you both have contact information for doctors and family members that may need updating?
- Where are the children when the government no longer allows free movement?
- What technology can you use to allow children to continue to interact meaningfully with their away home parents when a full quarantine is in place?
In the short term, while freedom of movement is still allowed, it is probably best to stick to your regular parenting schedule as the children switch between children, in order to maintain a sense of normalcy for your households. If due to a lack of schooling, lack of childcare and / or expectations from the employer, it is not possible to keep a normal schedule, try to come up with a plan that may meet everyone’s needs for the next several weeks. If you need help with these emotionally charged and stressful conversations, reach out to a mediator or co-parenting coordinator who may be able to assist you with emergency planning.
The mediators at Skylark are available through Zoom so we can all continue to practice social distancing and still help our clients make difficult decisions about mutual parenting. While we always encourage court dispute resolution, it is important to know that the Supreme Court has issued several orders restricting access to state courthouses and judicial facilities so anyone who tends to get a judge to read your plan for the can Determine emergency parenting. You can find the latest orders on the court’s website.
We hope everyone who reads stays safe and healthy, and we encourage some planning now that may bring some relief in the future from the stress this type of crisis has left us all. Should there be a health crisis or quarantine for your family, creating a plan will reduce the need to do so when things get even more difficult.
Even if you have a plan for this crisis, use this time to include a process in your parenting plan about how emergency decisions will be made in the future and who to work with if you can’t reach an agreement. Meet a mediator or co-parenting coordinator who can be a resource for your family in times of crisis. You can hope that you never need them, and if you do, you will at least feel that one more thing is in your control at a time when other things may feel out of control.
UPDATE: During this crisis, additional resources became available:
How To Talk To Your Children About The Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Seven guidelines for divorced / separated parents sharing custody of children during the COVID-19 pandemic
AFCC – Coronavirus (COVID-19) resources and information
As the courts and government officials deal with this crisis, more and more orders are being issued to determine how parenting plans are to be enforced during home stay requirements. Some examples have already been published:
Chief Justice John D. Casey sends open letter about parenting together during COVID-19: “Parenting assignments will not be suspended during this period …”
Dallas County Rules of Procedure for the Property Plan During School Closure
Ohio Department of Health Order to Stay Home, which includes a provision allowing essential travel to “move children under custody”.