Co-parenting is often the hardest part of any divorce. When raising children under two separate roofs is combined with another crisis, like the current global coronavirus pandemic, that reality could become extremely complicated. Even under the best of circumstances, maintaining two positive home environments for kids can be trying. The fallout of the current crisis — job loss, school closures, time constraints, social distancing, to list just a few — can amplify already difficult family circumstances.
As a certified divorce financial analyst and mediator, I offer some tips on navigating co-parenting during this challenging time.
Keep in mind: This is uncharted territory for everyone. The coronavirus continues to unfold. Regulations, restrictions, re-opens, and realities are changing each day. Right now, every family — intact or otherwise — is figuring out how to manage the uncertainties. Working constructively with your co-parent, rather than rehashing old conflicts and resuming old patterns, will make it easier to see this through. Stay focused on the children’s wellbeing, on everyone’s safety and health, and take it one day at a time.
Have a Plan
The physical and emotional health of your children must remain a priority. Have a calm and constructive conversation with your co-parent about how you will both keep your children safe. If possible, try and maintain the regular co-parenting schedule. Ensure that the children have ways to access their other parent (telephone, video chat, drive-by etc.) when staying with you. Reach a mutual understanding about safety measures. Agree on how you will each minimize exposure and cross-contamination and how you will comply with social distancing regulations. Make sure to have a real strategy for co-parenting if one of you, or the kids, becomes sick or needs quarantine.
The shutdowns imposed to curtail the spread of the virus, and planned staggered re-openings, are resulting in significant economic hardships. If either one of you is paying or receiving spousal support and/or child support, the amounts of these payments were likely calculated based on a level of income that might no longer exist. With no clear indication of when things might get back to normal — or what that new normal will look like — it is important to have an open, honest, and compassionate conversation with your co-parent about finances. Be clear about your own situation (if you have taken a pay-cut, reduced your hours, etc.) and listen to them when they explain their own. Reach an agreement with your ex about what is feasible and reasonable and get it in writing. Consult your certified divorce financial analyst to adjust your own finances in the face of these new, if temporary, realities.
Split the Tasks
Nationwide school closures have forced parents to assume the role of educator as well. Parents are trying to balance working from home and keeping the kids busy all day. Discuss with your co-parent which topics or school subjects they feel comfortable teaching and divvy up the curriculum. No one parent should be the exclusive educator. This will show your children that you both take their schoolwork seriously, and it will allocate responsibility equally to both parents. The time each of you spends with your kids should be split proportionately between academics, recreation, and wellness.
It is always true that the best way to co-parent with your ex is to communicate regularly. Now, when things are hard and uncertain, it is even more important to share what you are going through and talk about how it might be affecting the children. Demonstrate your own flexibility and ask for the same if you need it. Be intentional about the communication with your co-parent and use the times you talk to model constructive and respectful problem-solving. It is also especially important to maintain communication with grandparents. Social distancing measures put in place to protect seniors are isolating. Do everything you can to ensure that grandma and grandpa (from both parents) continue to have a relationship with their grandchildren even when they can’t see each other.
If you or your co-parent must limit time with the kids for any reason (work schedules, illness, quarantine, etc.), find creative ways to maintain contact with your kids. Whether it means you do bedtime via Skype, do an art project together from your respective living rooms, or play a virtual round of your favorite game, make all contact with your kids count.