The challenge of co-parenting during COVID-19

Photo of attorney Melinda L. Singer

The COVID-19 crisis remains, but as the world adjusts so must former spouses who are parents. As part of your divorce agreement, you share time with your children in a joint custody arrangement. However, the pandemic has thrown a monkey wrench into your life, plans and relationships. And this includes child custody matters.

Many issues now surface. How do you safely pick up your child? How do you deal with a former spouse who is not in agreement with you and harrumphs at self-quarantining and wearing masks? You also may have an uncooperative spouse who willingly takes your children on summer ventures to the Jersey Shore or takes flight out-of-state because he or she distrusts your approach toward dealing with the virus. Now what?

Come to a consensus

Your child’s life and health remain a priority, because exposure to COVID-19 can lead to severe health consequences. Do you risk punishment by not following court orders in child custody situations?

Let’s settle down for a moment and act like reasonable adults. You will have to set aside any lingering animosity with your former spouse and have serious discussions. Here are some steps to address and consider in co-parenting situations when competing with COVID-19:

  • Keep the lines open and communicate. The two of you need to come to a consensus. One of you should not dominate this conversation. One of you cannot make the final decision or decide what custody arrangement works best. And do not deny parenting time to your former spouse or ignore court orders. Be civil and work toward resolution.
  • Avoid making accusations of the other parent and “diagnosing” that they have the virus. Parents who are essential workers often become targets in these scenarios.
  • Focus on facts and solid judgment. Of course, your children should not stay with a parent who has the virus or tested positive for it. Agree and self-quarantine.
  • Use technology as an ally. Perhaps you were doing this already, but now is the real time to step up and do so. If you cannot see your child in person, virtual visits via FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, Facebook Messenger, Google Duo and WhatsApp allow you to maintain connections.
  • When making child exchanges, do so where wide open spaces exist and few people are present. They could take place at a park, parking lot or school grounds when school is not in session. Curbside pick-up – which restaurants often rely on during COVID-19 – seems like a strange term to use when dealing with child custody matters, but it works. Make the exchange at the other parent’s home.

Your child needs both parents in his or her life. They already may be frightened and confused about the COVID-19 situation. Focus more on understanding their needs and coming to an agreement on child custody arrangements during this uncertain time.

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