What should a divorced parent do? Take a deep breath, listen, and negotiate. You may think your ex isn’t following CDC protocols, but for you, not following your court order can present additional difficulties in the future. Enormous backlogs exist in the court system due to the pandemic, and our best advice is to try to reach an agreement that is in the best interest of your child or children. Your kids are dealing with a lot right now, and putting them in the middle of a dispute will not make them safer.
- Be reasonable. One day, the pandemic will be under control. In the meantime, it is in every parent’s best interest to remain under control as well. Tempers can flare, and accusations can fly, however the courts will not be pleased with parents who ignore court orders or resist compromise. One household may have members in a high-risk group, or they may be an essential worker with a great deal of exposure to others. During this crisis, it may be necessary to make modifications to a parenting schedule.
- Be flexible. If one parent is in a high-risk occupation where exposure to the virus is increased, it may make sense for the kids to stay with the other parent until the pandemic surge settles or vaccinations become available. You can also limit exposure by reducing the number of times the children go back and forth between households throughout the week. It may make sense for one parent to have custody during the week and the other on weekends.
Note that you should never unilaterally change your court orders even if you feel the other party is wrong or is unwilling to compromise.
- Be honest. COVID has created a sense of fear and uncertainty. As a parent you should do your best to maintain open, honest conversations with your children and your ex-spouse. You may be living apart, but you must act as a team to navigate these difficult times.
For instance, one parent may be better positioned to facilitate online learning, and it would be best for the children to remain in place until in-person learning resumes. And if a family member, child, or parent shows signs of illness, this information must be shared immediately so a care plan and precautions can be put in place.
- Be prepared. Crises can happen whether we like it or not. Be prepared to have contingency plans that you and your ex have agreed to in advance. In the short term, one parent may need to forgo or modify custody. However, they can make up this time once the crisis has passed.
If a positive case does occur in one of the households, be prepared to modify schedules and put plans in place to keep others safe. Help reinforce your child’s relationship with the absent parent by providing other outlets to connect. This contact could be through Skype or Zoom visits, bedtime story reading via phone or virtual movie nights.
When all else fails If you have tried to work through co-parenting challenges with your ex-spouse or partner and you cannot come to agreement, there are alternatives to court. Despite using tools like Bluejeans and Zoom to facilitate court proceedings virtually, remember that the judicial system is dealing with an huge backlog in cases, and they discourage divorced couples from escalating custody issues. A better alternative is to seek the advice and guidance of an experienced family law attorney. They can help you draft a temporary custody agreement or modify a parenting plan to keep the matter out of court. Representation on both sides can work together to develop a plan that addresses critical issues like child safety, schooling, and extra-curricular activities – a compromise on which both parents can agree. Parents must provide consistency and continuity during these difficult times. How you act today will give your child confidence, knowing you will always do what is best for them now and in the future.
If you need help resolving co-parenting issues, Susan Levy Eisenberg, Attorney at Law, is here to help. With over 30 years of compassionate family law experience in Bucks and Montgomery Counties, Susan will help your work with your ex-spouse or partner and their legal representation to develop an agreement that best suits the child’s needs.