I recently had the privilege of contributing to a very important book to help families in transition during the pandemic. This book, "Living Together, Separating, Divorcing: Surviving During a Pandemic" is a collection of articles meant to help separated and divorced families navigate the ups and downs of co-parenting during a crisis. It is available on Amazon, as an e-book or as a hard copy: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B088MF1W3M
More than 70 mediators from around the world joined forces to put together this resource for families struggling during this unprecedented time. What follows is my contribution:
Cooperation and Co-Parenting During a Time of Crisis
COVID-19 has disrupted our lives. We’ve added new vocabulary like “social distancing,” and items like toilet paper and hand sanitizer have become currency. Sometimes information has been in short supply, not available at all or changing quickly. We’ve had to make decisions in the moment with incomplete information and sometimes those decisions are not popular. Or easy.
If you are divorced or separated parents, this time of crisis can make the regular issues of co-parenting more challenging. These circumstances will require increased cooperation and communication. If the ego of the adults is engaged, rather than the best interest of the children, it is a recipe for disaster.
So, what can you do to successfully weather this crisis?
I recently heard from past clients of mine who were struggling with co-parenting time in light of the pandemic. These parents are divorced and have a solid co-parenting relationship and can generally make good decisions together. However, this situation had stretched their ability to agree about what was best for their daughter. By the time they contacted me they had fairly successfully run through the five steps above and just needed some final feedback. Prior to any shutdown orders, Dad had been travelling and Mom felt strongly that he should quarantine for 14 days prior to seeing their daughter again. Dad disagreed. Together they decided to contact the child’s pediatrician and get some feedback. The doctor recommended Dad quarantine before seeing the child and the parents agreed to abide by the doctor’s recommendation. At all times the parents calmly communicated what was happening with each other and with the daughter. During the 14-day quarantine time Dad “visited” with the child via electronic means so that they remained connected and Mom facilitated that contact. Once Dad’s quarantine time was up the parents discussed further the wisdom of the daughter travelling back and forth between homes. Dad lives in a highly populated apartment building and Mom lives in a single-family home. Given the exposure risk of the apartment building, the parents jointly decided that all of Dad’s access would take place at Mom’s home and Dad would forego his overnight visits for the duration of the crisis for the safety of their daughter. At this point they contacted me. They had questions about how this temporary change in their schedule would impact their Parenting Plan. We discussed the parameters of how they arrived at this decision, and how they would decide when the temporary schedule would end and the normal schedule would resume. We talked further about Mom’s added expenses of having the child with her full-time and whether child support would be impacted and we discussed if Dad wanted make-up time for his missed overnights. We also created a shared script for the parents to talk to the child about these changes so the message remained consistent, and agreed upon issues that would trigger a return conversation in mediation or other help.
While these clients had done most of the heavy lifting on their own using the co-parenting skills they had been building, they needed a little help to finalize it and put it in action. With the courts closed or operating on a limited capacity in many jurisdictions for the foreseeable future, creating agreements quickly to keep families stable is more important than ever.
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