Americans have now been living through the COVID-19 pandemic for over a year. And as we all know, this unprecedented event has altered how we live our everyday lives. Something as simple as running to the store for groceries has become much more complex over the past 12 months. And even though everyone has high hopes for the near future due to mass vaccination roll-outs, for the time being, the CDC is still advising that everyone continue taking precautions.
But what does this all mean for co-parenting? Attempting to co-parent well sometimes requires flexibility, and this has never been so obvious as over the past year. Interestingly, the co-parenting challenges you face during COVID-19 can also be opportunities to learn to work with your ex. With access to courts in shorter supply than usual, co-parents have had to work together without running to court over every disagreement. If you and your ex learn to jump over these hurdles, your co-parenting may be smoother from here on. In an attempt to assist you, we compiled some basic tips to help keep your schedule and sanity during these uncertain times.
Co-Parenting Tips During COVID-19 and Beyond
Stick to the Schedule as Much as Possible
The first rule of thumb is to do everything possible to stick to the current parenting plan. Each parent’s basic need to spend time parenting their child has not changed. Nor has the basic need that your children have to spend time with both parents. However, what has changed is the circumstances. Here are some examples of circumstances that may validly cause custody concerns during the pandemic:
- If one of the parents comes down with COVID-19;
- If someone in the co-parent’s home has COVID-19;
- If a co-parent or housemate is in quarantine;
- If either co-parent is an essential worker;
- If either co-parent has frequent contact with the public, thereby exposing them to COVID-19 at higher levels; or
- If shelter-in-place or other restrictions are enacted once again.
If any of these factors apply, you and your co-parent may decide to keep your child in one parent’s home for health reasons, regardless of the parenting plan. If your child is staying with you, make sure that your co-parent has plenty of virtual contact with them. Facilitate Zoom calls and phone calls to keep them in touch. However, if none of these factors apply, you should do everything you can to ensure that your child sees their other parent according to schedule—unless you and your ex agree otherwise.
Remain Flexible and Reasonable
One of the most basic rules of thumb in any custody situation is to remain reasonable and flexible when necessary. That is never more true than during a crisis like the pandemic. And keep in mind that the goal should always be what is best for the children.
Of course, parents do not always agree on what is best. So keep your mind and your schedule open to suggestions. For instance, if your child’s co-parent needs to work extra hours to make up for lost income earlier in the pandemic, do your very best to accommodate them. Reasonableness accomplishes three worthy objectives.
- First, remaining flexible and reasonable makes things go smoothly and avoids conflict;
- Second, when something comes up, chances are far better that your co-parent will return your spirit of goodwill and make every effort to accommodate you; and
- Third, if you act reasonably and go out of your way to accommodate your ex, you look good in the eyes of a judge should your ex drag you to court in the future.
Do your best to keep communication lines open and respond to requests with an open mind when possible.
Keep a Journal and Document Everything
Be sure to communicate with your ex via text, email, or voicemail. It is important to have proof of what was said when attempting to negotiate custody changes. If you orally tell your ex something, that event will become a “he said, she said” issue in court. That forces the judge to decide who to believe blindly. If you have written proof, it is far better.
And if things start to go south, immediately begin writing everything down. Keep a running journal of:
- Any concerns that come up regarding the co-parent’s home and infection risk to you or your child;
- Any communications you send to your child’s co-parent expressing those concerns;
- All responses sent back to you;
- All episodes of co-parent rigidity that caused harm to your or your child;
- Any instances where the co-parent returned the child late, made child exchanges difficult or uncomfortable, or simply refused to return the child; and
- Any other concerns that come up.
Make sure to record the date and time of any issues. If you end up in court, detailed records like this go a long way in proving your case.
How Will Judges View 2020 Actions?
During the heart of the pandemic, we all had tough decisions to make. Co-parents who did not allow visitation due to concerns over the virus may have to defend their decisions in court. The other parent may be angry and feel justified asking for a modification of custody based on those decisions.
For instance, if you have comorbidities and your co-parent is a first responder, you may have decided to keep your child safe in your own home during the pandemic. Normally, this would be an utterly unacceptable violation of the custody arrangement. But a judge may agree that time spent with the first responder may have unnecessarily exposed you and your child to the virus. Get an attorney as soon as possible, and be ready to defend your decisions in court.
We Can Help
Child custody issues are never easy, but COVID-19 ratcheted up co-parenting difficulties to a whole new level. With courthouses closed for much of 2020, parents were largely left to their own devices. Hopefully, you and your ex came to amicable agreements and are currently in good shape with a healthy working relationship regarding parenting time. But if your situation is not or was not amicable, it is time to speak to one of the experienced divorce legal team at Batson Nolan PLC. We can help you set the record straight regarding past decisions, and we can help you resolve any pending disagreements regarding parenting time with your ex. Call us today or contact us online to set up a free consultation in our Clarksville or Springfield office.