It is difficult to find stability during these uncertain times. The COVID-19 pandemic is changing the fabric of our daily lives. With enough sources of stress in the world, your custody arrangement should not be one of them. In anticipation of the issues some families may face in the upcoming weeks, the highly respected, nationwide American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) has suggested guidelines for parents who are divorced/separated and sharing custody of children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based on these guidelines, below is a list of strategies to bear in mind as you navigate through your custody arrangement.
Follow all court orders and custody arrangements as best as possible. Short of emergency circumstances, which may include a child or parent having COVID-19, your current order/agreement remains in full effect and will govern your custody schedule throughout the pandemic. In some jurisdictions, standing orders are mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should be followed as though school was still in session. Communicate with your co-parent and identify any potential conflicts that may exist in your current schedule as a result of the COVID-19 restrictions. Decide how to resolve those conflicts and agree to follow these modifications until the pandemic is over or the restrictions are lifted. Try to make as little adjustment as possible to the schedule, unless both parties approve, since the children may be craving consistency right now as much as you.
Safety is your family’s top priority. In order to stay safe, you need to be aware of the current status of COVID-19 measures and restrictions in your area. Check in with reliable news sources, but do not let the media coverage consume you. Also practice the recommended safety measures, including hand washing and social distancing, that are recommended by the CDC and other dependable health organizations. Both parents should encourage their children to make these practices a part of their daily routine at each household as well. Co-parents should get on the same page about how, if at all, you will communicate with your children about COVID-19.
Do not let the temporary stress of the pandemic cause you to act or make decisions about custody which will have long-lasting negative consequences to your family. Stay calm, act rationally. Be honest with your co-parent about any suspicion or concern about potential exposure you or the children may have to the virus. If you or your children are exhibiting any symptoms, communicate this with your co-parent. Transparency is important for maintaining trust during this challenging period. On the flip side, if your co-parent is expressing concerns to you, be understanding. Do not immediately jump to anger, fear, or withholding the children. Instead, work together to modify your schedule, if necessary, with the children’s best interests in mind.
It is likely you will have to modify, even just slightly, your existing custody arrangement to accommodate the ever-evolving circumstances. Some parents may have to work more or unusual hours, while others may be out of work or have reduced hours. Thus, it is important for both parents to remain flexible and open-minded. Be creative with the schedule. See obstacles as opportunities. For example, if your modified schedule has you exchanging the children more often, try having outdoor play precede or supersede the transfer so the children associate it with positive playtime. Utilize FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, and other similar video chat platforms more freely, especially if one parent has had to reduce their custodial time as a result of the pandemic. Lastly, consider offering make up time to your co-parent should they end up losing significant custodial time.
We are all traversing through this unchartered territory together – the courts, lawyers, parents, children, everyone.