Many parents point to co-parenting as the most stressful element of any divorce. Navigating the intricacies of raising children in two households is never easy. Combine that with an additional layer of complications- like the current ongoing pandemic- and it can be a staggering feat. The realities of the current crisis — unemployment, kids out of school, quarantines, etc.— are making it even harder for all parents, particularly those trying to maintain constructive, conducive, and caring environments at two separate addresses.
Jay Schwartz, a divorce attorney, shares his tips for handling co-parenting conundrums right now.
Chart a Plan of Action
Have regularly scheduled conversations with your co-parent so that you can both commit to keeping your children safe. The ideal would be to keep to the “normal” co-parenting routine. This stability will ensure emotional health and show your kids that not everything is changing or chaotic. Make sure you both agree on the safety measures you will each take to preserve the children’s physical wellbeing; find agreeable terms for minimizing exposure and cross-contamination. Maintain open lines of communication whenever the kids are with the co-parent. They must be able to access their other parent (by telephone, Skype, hangouts, etc.) when they are with you. Also, chart a contingency plan if things change. Know what you will do if one of you, or the kids, tests positive or needs to be in quarantine.
Don’t be Afraid of the Finances
The economic fallout of this crisis is real. Unemployment is on the rise and cutbacks have been implemented across industries and business sectors. If paying or receiving spousal support and/or child support is part of your divorce settlement, the actual amounts of these payments are on the line. For most people, this number is calculated based on income. Now that the original income may or may not exist, or may have been drastically altered, the bottom-line may change. Have an honest and frank conversation with your co-parent about the fiscal side of things. Be specific about your needs and what you are going through; tell them if your pay was cut, or you are working fewer hours to navigate homeschooling etc. Listen calmly and thoughtfully when they explain what things look like for them. Do all you can to reach a reasonable and amicable understanding with your ex. Determine exactly what the monetary needs are and what is doable. Then get it in writing. According to Jay Schwartz, it is important to be in touch with your attorney and keep him or her appraised of your changing situation. If necessary, adjust your own finances and legal protection to accommodate your needs.
Share the Burden
No matter what your chosen profession, COVID-19 has likely forced you to take on the additional role of teacher. Parents are finding themselves balancing their workplace responsibilities with the educational and entertainment needs of their kids. Jay Schwartz recommends splitting your kids’ schoolwork between you and your co-parent. Send your kids, and their teachers, a clear message that you both take homeschooling seriously and that you are both committed to their educational progress. Schwartz further advises that the time you and your ex each spend with your children should be equally divided between learning and having fun.
Keep an Open Mind
With even the best laid out plans and intentions, things will change. If you or your ex need to change the way you have been doing things, for reasons that may include, but are not limited to, work, sickness, or quarantine get creative about how you stay in touch with your kids. Don’t resent your co-parent if they have to do the nighttime routine via Skype, or if they need your kids to have a bit of extra screen time so they can play a virtual game together. Keep both sets of grandparents in the picture as much as possible, as well. According to Attorney Schwartz, it is critical to exhibit understanding, so that your ex will respond in kind when you need it.
Schwartz’s strongest piece of advice: Remember that even nine months in, the COVID-19 crisis is still new to everyone. Rules, instructions, and protocols change rapidly and regularly. Every family, whether firmly intact or divorced, is constantly making and re-making plans. Being an effective and positive co-parent right now is the best thing you can do. Let the old arguments and hang-ups go, for now, so that at least this part of your life can be easier. Focus on what is best for your kids now, prioritize everyone’s health and safety, and remember to stay reasonable.