The rapid spread of the coronavirus pandemic is upending lives everywhere, but it’s putting a strain on a group that already deals with challenges on a routine basis—divorced parents.
Schools and daycare facilities are closing everywhere, which has parents questioning how to keep their children safe. Some are continuing to work, if they’re able, while others are adjusting to life at home full-time under financial strain.
Then there is the stress of co-parenting. Many parents are questioning how to handle their existing custody agreements while practicing social distancing. How do you successfully co-parent with an ex when everyone is supposed to stay home?
It’s complicated, but not impossible. We have to respond quickly while accepting that COVID-19 may require us to be lenient and accept change.
If you’re navigating co-parenting during the coronavirus, keep reading for a guide on how to work with your co-parent to put relationship issues aside for the health and safety of your children.
Communication is Vital
Our world is in crisis, so communication has never been more critical than it is right now.
For some co-parents in high-conflict relationships, communication is difficult. It causes stress and anxiety, but it’s time to put those feelings aside and focus on the issues. Your family should put the health of everyone at the top of the priority.
It’s essential to remain on the same page, so the first thing you should do is agree on how to discuss COVID-19 with your children.
How to Talk to Your Children About COVID-19
Your children have likely already seen news of the coronavirus everywhere. It’s on the front page of newspapers, on every news channel, to leaflets at the supermarket.
It’s hard to tell a child they can’t visit the playground or have playdates with friends in a way that won’t make them worry more than they already are. So how do you explain the pandemic to a child?Stay Positive
Children pick up cues from adults. They will react not only to what you say but how you say it as well. So stay positive, remain calm, and speak in a reassuring tone.Be Available
Both parents should be available to listen and talk. Make time to talk together and reassure your children to come to you if they’re unsure about something. Remain Developmentally Appropriate
Take into account the age of your children when answering questions and providing information. You don’t want to overwhelm them with more information than they can handle.
Do your best to answer their questions honestly and clearly. Remember that you don’t have to know the answer to everything—what matters is that you’re there if they need you.Avoid Stigmas
Don’t use language that blames others. Viruses can make anyone sick—race and ethnicity don’t matter.
Don’t assume who may or may not have COVID-19—model good behavior for your children.Limit Screen Time
News of the novel coronavirus is all over the television and online. For this reason, consider reducing the amount of screen time your children get each day. Too much information can cause anxiety and panic.
This is true for adults, too.Tell the Truth
Do, however, provide your children with accurate information. Talk to them about rumors they may see on the Internet, especially social media platforms.
Let them know not to believe everything they see or hear, and not to spread rumors based on inaccurate information.Practice Good Hygiene
Teach your children how to reduce the spread of germs.
Practice good handwashing habits. If soap and water aren’t available, teach them how to use hand sanitizer. Remind them to sneeze or cough into their elbow or tissue, and always through the tissue in the trash.
Tell them to keep a safe distance from others who are sick. And lastly, make sure you’re leading by example and doing each of these things, too.
Simple COVID-19 Facts to Share with Children
As you’re having conversations with your children, try to keep information simple. Remind them that both parents and all health and school officials will do everything they can to keep them safe.
Both parents should become comfortable with the following facts. These will lead conversations about COVID-19 at home and ensure both parents are using the same messaging.What is COVID-19?
COVID-19 stands for “coronavirus disease 2019.” Coronaviruses aren’t new, but this is a new disease not previously seen in humans.
Recently, COVID-19 has made many people sick. While most people, children especially, will be okay, some people will suffer more than others. Doctors and health officials are working very hard to keep you healthy.How Do You Stay Safe from COVID0-19?
Always practice healthy habits at home, school, and during playtime. Healthy habits that will help are:
- Keep the germs out of your body by keeping your hands out of your mouth, nose, and eyes.
- Never cough or sneeze onto anyone. Use your elbow or a tissue, then throw the tissue away immediately.
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds with hot, soapy water. To make sure you’re washing long enough, sing the song “Happy Birthday” twice.
- If soap and water aren’t available, ask an adult to help with hand sanitizer. Never put hand sanitizer in your mouth.
- Keep the things we touch the cleanest. Have an adult help you wipe doorknobs, light switches, and remote controls.
- If you’re not feeling well, tell someone and stay home. You don’t want other people’s germs, and they don’t want yours either.
What if You Get Sick?
For most people, COVID-19 disease feels like having the flu. You might have a fever, cough, and have a hard time breathing deeply. Most people who have gotten the disease haven’t been seriously sick.
Only a small group of people have had severe problems and have been admitted to the hospital. Most children don’t get very sick, and most adults who do, get better.
A fever and a cough doesn’t automatically mean you have COVID-19. You can get sick from all kinds of germs. Remember that if you do feel unwell, tell an adult and they will help you.
As a parent, if you think your child could be infected with the new coronavirus, call ahead before arriving at any healthcare facility.
Co-Parenting Guidelines for the COVID-19 Pandemic
Once you’re on the same page about how to communicate the facts of COVID-19 to your children, it’s time to talk about how the pandemic will or will not affect your co-parenting agreement.
These guidelines are meant to provide advice and clarity for how to handle court orders and co-parenting agreements during this trying time.
1. Be Healthy
Be a good model for your children by following all CDC, local, and state guidelines.
Lead by example by showing your children intensive handwashing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched. Practice social distancing and stay informed to avoid falling victim to the rumor mill.
2. Be Mindful
While you should recognize the severity of the pandemic, you should remain calm and reassure your children that everything will return to normal eventually.
And if you have a good relationship with your co-parent, consider being proactive like Carolina from Italy:
“My ex-husband and I decided to re-organize our children’s custody in longer periods, to avoid going out frequently. In fact, even though we are close, (5 miles apart) we live in different cities and the government suggested not to move to other cities if you don’t have a good reason or necessity.”Carolina
3. Be Compliant
Now is not the time to make up your own rules. Despite the unusual circumstances, you should continue to follow court orders and custody agreements.
These agreements exist to prevent haggling over details. Most custody agreements, for example, mandate that custody agreements should remain in force as though school is in session, even if they are closed.
4. Be Creative
While you should do your best to stay compliant, it’s evident that things will change when travel is restricted. Some parents will be working extra hours, while others will lose their jobs.
Plans will inevitably change, but each parent should encourage closeness with the other. If one parent loses time, get created with shared books, movies, and games. Communicate with platforms such as FaceTime or Skype.
5. Be Transparent
Now is not the time to withhold information from your co-parent. If you suspect that you have been exposed to the virus, provide honest information. Agree on the steps each of you will take to protect your children.
If a child exhibits symptoms of the virus, both parents should be notified at once.
And if you’re worried about exposure, understand that you’re only doing what is best for your children by opting to self-quarantine. Attitude is everything, as you can see in the following testimonial by Amelie from France:
“As far as we’re concerned, we’re on alternate custody. The confinement began while the children were at their father’s. We have 3 children: 8, 11 and 14 years old.
Being on good terms, we had no difficulty in agreeing to leave them with him because they are better off at his place, as it is on a farm in the countryside.
For the moment, I’m going to respect a total confinement of 15 days to know if I’m safe and then we’ll see if I try to go and see them.
In the meantime, we talk quite regularly, but only when the children want to because they have other priorities than me! So that reassures me, it means that they are fine and that they don’t miss me!”Amélie
6. Be Generous
If one parent misses out on time, family law judges will expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made.
These are highly unusual circumstances, and parents who are inflexible during this time may not fare well in later filings.
7. Be Understanding
This pandemic is causing economic hardship for many parents, for those who are paying child support and parents who receive it. If you’re providing child support, try to offer something even if it can’t be the court-ordered amount.
The receiving parent should do everything to be accomodating under these challenging circumstances. Now is the time to come together and focus on what is best for the children.
These strange days will leave many children with vivid memories. What children should be left with is the understanding that both parents did everything they could to keep them safe, while keeping them informed.
How to Manage Parenting Time Revisions
COVID-19 is causing schedule disruptions that may make it difficult or even impossible to stick to your original parenting plan. It’s likely your agreement didn’t come close to accounting for a situation like this.
The best thing to do is look at your current schedules and come to an agreement on something that everyone can live with, if not be thrilled about.
If you’re having a difficult time figuring this out with your co-parent, remember that there is help available. During this stressful time, you may have to reach out to a professional to assist.
Get Modifications in Writing
If you’re agreeing to slightly different terms than what is outlined in your custody agreement, consider getting the changes in writing. If you think your ex might take advantage of this amended parenting plan after the pandemic, this is even more essential.
If you’re concerned, have your mediator or attorney draft a document outlining the amended schedule. Have them include a stipulation that the plan is not setting a precedent and has an end date. If everyone signs it now, it can be filed once the courts reopen.
This Too Shall Pass
Many things feel out of control right now. It’s essential to remember that this hardship, no matter how long it lasts, will eventually end.
Eventually, life will return to normal, and we will all go back to work and resume the activities we enjoy. The best thing you can do for your children and your co-parenting relationships is to be understanding and patient. Keeping conflicts to a minimum will help you and your family manage the stress.
Don’t forget that you’re not alone in dealing with this, and there are resources available to you if you need them.