Caronavirus: Covid19. Now what?

The world is presently in uncharted territories, and it is no less so for families, grappling with the management of day-to-day life in the parenting of children of divorce. Some families intuitively know exactly what to do and focus on the ongoing and developing needs of their children with agility and grace.

Other families however will find that this crisis will exacerbate and magnify their dysfunction and result in greater acrimony and conflict. In addition, many of those families will face additional personal challenges ranging from infection to job loss or interruption, or logistical hurdles resulting from travel restrictions or dangers posed in travel.

Those of us who represent parties or children as advocates or Guardians Ad Litem are being swamped with trying to help high conflict families manage these issues. Parent Coordinators are being inundated with calls and emails to help families resolve these issues at an alarming rate. Even lower conflict families have myriad questions and issues concerning what will be the new normal for at least the next three weeks.

Most parenting plans provide for holidays and breaks from school, however now that the schools are on an unplanned break which may morph into a summer break and potentially delay the start of the 2020-2021 school year, how are schedules effected? What happens to parenting time when children are not in school, and parents are not working, and caregivers (daycare, babysitters, relatives) may not be available? What happens if there is a shelter-in-place order?

There are various opinions being offered by the attorneys and court personnel I have consulted, and the unique and specific language of the parenting time orders of each case will certainly have an impact on the outcome of any given case.

With additional hours available during the week because of school closures and/or parents working from home, the opportunity for the children to have additional parenting time with both parents should be encouraged unless logistics, or illness make it potentially unsafe for a child to go for additional parenting time. In our society, most children are going to experience a little bit of “stir-crazy” the longer this crisis persists, and breaking up the routine and balancing out the parenting time a little bit more will inure to the benefit of most children whose parents live in relatively close proximity to one another.

Many children will have school responsibilities at home. Those responsibilities can and should be met and managed by both parents, and it not a reason to deny parenting time during this crisis that the child must be home to complete schoolwork. Both parents can and should take part in meeting and managing any at home school responsibilities that are assigned.

All parents have some level of anxiety regarding the health and safety on their children in ordinary circumstances, and it is only heightened during this current crisis. Telephone or video communication is critically important. Some plans call for telephone or video communication once a week, or every other day, and some are more frequent, like every day. It is reasonable under the circumstances to increase communication between parents and their children, and children must be permitted to contact their other parent by telephone, or video, particularly if parenting time is being missed due to illness or logistical hurdles. Video communications have improved to the extent that regular video chats of reasonable duration are within the reach of most parents and children, particularly those children who have access to a smart phone (FaceTime, Skype etc.).

Parents also would do well to keep in mind that this may be the first crisis faced by most of these children. Their worlds are going to be increasingly rocked, as schools close; activities like sports, and clubs and other extracurriculars are canceled or suspended; friends become less accessible as we become increasingly isolated; parents’ financial circumstances become altered for weeks, months, or even years; and, unfortunately as some of these children, and their parents, teachers, caregivers or relatives become ill, or even die.

I predict that this current crisis is going to have lifelong implications for the development, and emotional security of many children and the children of parents in high conflict divorce families are at even greater risk.

If you are a parent in one of these high conflict divorce families (and you know who you are) pump the brakes before automatically saying no to your child’s other parent, or to your child, when a request is made for additional time, or to make a change to the schedule.

If your schedule means that your child is residing primarily with you, you now have a lot of extra time with your children. Share that time with your child’s other parent. Be the one to offer the other parent additional time before you are asked.

Be the bigger person.

You may find with all this additional time that you need the other parent to pick up some of the extra time for your benefit, as well as the benefit of your child.

If you are one of the many parents in a high conflict case with the Guardian Ad Litem or Parent Coordinator, reach out to those professionals for assistance in trying to craft some temporary adjustments to your parenting time schedule. I promise you that with the type of issues we ordinarily deal with, we probably have some ideas to help get through this time that you may not have thought of.

Good luck, God bless you and be patient with one another.