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Divorce, Custody and Access during Coronavirus: Maturity, Sensibility and Flexibility

Image of a father helping his son with his mask during the pandemic

This is not the time to threaten with court, lawyers and/or ultimatums

We are experiencing unprecedented times. While the precautionary measures being taken for COVID-19 work well for some families, for those experiencing divorce or separation it can add tremendous stress to an already challenging time.

The following list can help inform and guide you through these unique sets of circumstances:

  1. This is not the time to threaten with court, lawyers and/or ultimatums. Your time and money are better spent (or saved) for your family’s and children’s needs. We still don’t know how long this time will last, so engaging in sensible preservation of resources is a wise exercise.
  2. If you have a parenting plan or a separation agreement, do your best to continue to follow it during this pandemic. Clearly, there will be changes and when those happen, talk to your co-parent in advance. Don’t just implement it unilaterally as it can increase conflict. And, seriously, who needs more stress right now?

    If you cannot come to an agreement on your own or need guidance, you can engage a mediator to assist. Mediators are equipped to work with both of you to help generate creative and practical options for your family. And this is exactly what you need given the current landscape!
  3. Your parenting time with the children may have to change a bit. Or a lot. Be transparent, flexible and creative with your schedule, temporary as this may be. If you or your co-parent suspect exposure to the virus, inform each other immediately and create a plan to protect the children from exposure. While quarantining or self-isolating, parents can still maintain frequent contact with the children using Skype, WhatsApp or FaceTime.
  4. Get on the same page as your ex, for the sake of your children and yourselves! No one is expecting you to become best friends all of a sudden or even like each other. But, if there was ever a time to show your children a united front, this is it! Whether they can express it or not, kids are affected by your style of communication and level of conflict. Now, they also must deal with the stress and pressure of what’s going on in the world. Act on what you know and prepare for the unknown. Introduce similar routines in both homes, especially as they relate to corona virus. Stay informed, keep your co-parent informed, and work together on following-through with the precautionary measures for COVID-19.
  5. If you are self-isolating in the same home with your ex, things may be quite tricky. It is not impossible to maintain a respectful and healthy relationship, but it does require additional boundaries in place.
  6. Talk to your kids about what’s happening and answer their questions truthfully. Age-appropriate of course! Reassure them that things will eventually go back to normal, but it may take some time.

    Meanwhile, if you’re stuck in the home, might as well make the best of it! Plan for games nights/days, watch favourite shows or come up with new activities such as cooking or writing contests. There are also online resources you can tap into. For example, Live Science has compiled a list of lessons, games, science experiments, live demonstrations and virtual tours that your entire family may be able to enjoy.

    And, if you’re looking for fun ideas that don’t involve a screen, this website has lots of ideas for home-based activities with kids – from craft & games, to exercise, cleaning, home organization and photography!
  7. Stress can take a serious toll on your mental and physical health. There is a lot on your shoulders right now and grappling with everything can be draining. Recognize that increasing stress is normal and dedicate time for self-care. “The reality is that these times can be excellent for integrating those healthy behaviors you have always known you needed. Meditation, yoga, less screen time, a digital detox, and journaling. Take a bath, take time for yourself.” – says Goali Saedi Bocci Ph.D.

Bottom line, during this crisis, you need to work with each other, not with the courts, to protect your children’s safety and well-being. Judges are not trained in parenting your children, especially during a global pandemic. Ultimately, it is you and your co-parent who are best suited to make decisions for the health of your family. And your kids expect you to! They are already experiencing anxiety and pressure which may have a long-lasting, if not traumatic, impact. They need to know that they can count on you to protect them from additional conflict and increased risk of long-term damage.

Blog posts and podcasts are for informational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice.

About the Author

Laura Tarcea

Laura is a family mediator dedicated to supporting families through divorce or separation. With a background in Mental Health, Research, Program Development, and a Master of Laws in Dispute Resolution, Laura brings valuable insight and critical knowledge to parents. She strongly believes that a healthy co-parenting relationship will protect children from short-term and long-term damage. As such, Laura is a supporter of out-of-court processes to help equip parents with appropriate tools to succeed in their next chapter.

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