As we mark a year since the first protection orders were imposed, there is virtually no part of the divorce that the COVID-19 pandemic has not affected. In many ways, the frustration of our lack of control over the events of last year and now well into the first quarter of 2021 has exacerbated the emotional, psychological, and legal wars of separation and divorce. One particularly active battlefield, where control becomes a constant tug of war, has been the violent disagreements that accompany child custody battles.
With tensions remaining high, I have found that many of my divorce cases that are normally resolved are not resolved – not just those involving custody. All too often, because tensions are higher than usual, parents who separate or divorce use disagreements about their children to score points against their ex. To make matters worse, these unhappy couples are often stuck in the same household or in separate houses without the normal boundaries between life and work, but not looking at COVID-19 protection the same way, leading to an accelerated breakup.
Staying healthy during a custody battle isn’t easy, especially during COVID-19. It takes positive thinking, putting pettiness aside, and finding creative solutions that are in your children’s best interests. Despite the ongoing uncertainties about managing this school year, securing vaccination appointments for loved ones, and worrying about our health and safety, there are many ways to stay cool in life’s most stressful and unhappy circumstances.
Increase in bitter battles
An unusual by-product of the pandemic is that it has left more time to think and reflect on important life choices, which has resulted in the end of many flawed, damaged relationships. For those currently facing a divorce battle over custody or financial hardships they hadn’t anticipated before those odd times, there has been a marked surge in anger as the parties were ingrained and not giving up even the slightest disagreement.
During the pandemic, more divorced and separating couples are living in the same household longer than usual. Not only that, many work from the same location, dealing with the work and management of children without consistent childcare. It’s not surprising that tensions have increased and fierce battles have broken out over some of the smallest things. Without control over the ability to safely use family and friends as a starting point, compounded by the lack of traditional social activities, many parents are forced to give their children more screen time than they would otherwise. And with many of us sitting on our own screens and zooming in for much of the day, our eyes and brains need a break.
A major aspect of custody disputes during COVID has been disagreements between in-person and virtual school. We all wanted to keep our children safe, and part of that was the need to assess their mental and physical health. A debate rages across the country weighing the benefits of having a personal school for a child’s mental health and educational growth against the ability of the virtual learning environment to prevent the virus from spreading to our educators and other vulnerable community members. Each county and school district uses its own system to address these unprecedented challenges.
The custody battles I see often include disagreements about where a child spends their virtual school days, whether they can form a capsule with other students in their neighborhood or school, whether it is safe to engage in extracurricular activities and sports, and whether to visit for other households are an acceptable risk. I want to believe that many of these battles are fought in good faith, but it often seems that some parents use these disagreements as an opportunity to deny their ex-partner access to their child.
Find creative solutions
With all the tension and fear that COVID has created, I am delighted to see working parents do the best for their children, despite all odds. Remote working provides opportunities for flexibility in timetables to bypass virtual school schedules. For those struggling with a virtual school and less flexible jobs, many parents have weighed the risks and put children in a pod with a dedicated presenter to manage younger students’ assignments and video calling schedules.
It seems easy to say, but allow yourself to make the most of a bad situation by looking for ways to find the gallows humor all around us. Stay active with your friends on text chains and share funny memes with other mothers and fathers in your neighborhood. Most importantly, find time for yourself where to exercise or even take a vacation to breathe. Take socially distant walks with your friends and neighbors as regularly as possible. During these emotionally stressful times, it is important to take care of your sanity in order to respond to a difficult custody battle and find solutions that are in your child’s best interests.