With the entire country now practicing social distancing, the Covid-19 pandemic has certainly disrupted the lives of literally everyone, but it’s creating additional unusual and often difficult situations for parents who share joint custody of their children.
Leaders from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and Association of Family Conciliation Courts (AFCC) have released the following adapted guidelines for parents who are divorced/separated and sharing custody of children during the COVID-19 Pandemic:
Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, 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.
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 the news playing 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.
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 time-sharing. 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.
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. Both parents may need to work outside the home and new child care arrangements must be made. Plans will inevitably have to change and there is going to be a need for compromise. Try to minimize conflict and keep the best interest of your children at heart. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and FaceTime or Skype. With all this going on, both parents should remain actively engaged in their children’s lives as much as possible because your children need you right now!
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.
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 concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances will be taken very seriously.
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. For many children, the strange days of the 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 child safe.
When our normal routines are disrupted and uncertainty about the future increases, this can cause stress and flared tempers. Be careful to manage your own stress appropriately and to be patient with others when they don’t. Your children will be more likely to act out, argue, and misbehave during stressful times. This is natural for children who are experiencing stress. Helping to maintain routines like regular bedtimes will help. Children also need regular exercise and to occupy their minds doing something purposeful. For example, have children make cards and write notes to friends and family to cheer them up. Remember to be slow to anger, quick to listen, and quick to forgive.
Together we will get through this. Don’t forget, there are resources available out there if you need them, so don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Check out these additional OSU Extension fact sheets to learn more about helping children cope with divorce and ways to improve communication.
OSU Extension has a web page dedicated to additional useful resources: