As parents, we can find some solace in knowing that children are the least affected (thus far) by the novel Coronavirus outbreak.
Although this is good news, it certainly doesn’t mean we should be free of concern. The fact is, we don’t know what we don’t know.
Schools, daycares and other businesses are shutting down for good reason.
Keeping children safe is a priority, and the main goal should be containment to prevent the spread of the disease. Through mature and thoughtful co-parenting, this can be done. During times like this, in most cases, litigation is not the answer.
Do you or your ex-spouse live in a high-infection area?
Whether you or your ex-spouse currently live in a high-infection area makes a big difference in how to approach this new reality when it comes to co-parenting.
A website like https://infection2020.com/ can be an incredibly useful tool in making this determination. The site updates several times a day with confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States. Don’t drive yourself crazy, but do stay informed.
If parents live in separate states, and one or both live in a high-infection area, there may be some loss in parenting time. It may be best for the child if the parents make these difficult—but important—compromises during this pandemic. The parents are not the top priority here.
Is someone in the child’s life infected?
If a parent, someone living in the home, or someone who is in regular contact with the child has tested positive for coronavirus, parenting time is likely going to be affected. Think logically. Demanding that the custodial parent put the child on a plane is unwise. Remember, we need to think both short-term and long-term: short-term health and long-term perception. This is adversity. Rise to the challenge.
Prioritize your child’s health and prioritize the non-custodial parent’s contact with the child. If you are the primary custodial parent, your responsibility is not only to your child’s physical health. You must be the catalyst for your child’s emotional development and, in most situations, that means opening the connection to the other parent. This isn’t a game where someone wins. Be emotionally intelligent. Be bigger than the drama. Put yourself in their shoes.
Basic co-parenting tips during the Coronavirus pandemic:
- Maintain hygiene rituals
As adults, we know the importance now more than ever of proper hygiene. However, kids and teenagers can be forgetful (and careless). I experience both on a daily basis from my office (AKA, a room situated next to my three-year-old, who should probably be watching something more educational at the moment).
Whether the child is at Mom’s or Dad’s home, or Mom1’s or Mom2’s home, it’s important that they continue their daily hygiene routines.
Washing their hands properly and regularly is more important than ever.
Wiping down surfaces, cell phones, and other electronics with disinfectant wipes is critical.
Finally, avoiding touching their face or putting their fingers in their mouth is key.
- Avoid large social gatherings
Sports events and concerts are being canceled at an alarming rate to help contain the spread of the virus, but it’s not just extremely large events you need to worry about. Burnham Law shut down our offices earlier this week. We canceled our office’s Spring celebration at the Denver Zoo. Times change. We adapt.
Consider avoiding gatherings of even 50-100 people. That might mean skipping a birthday party at the local laser tag arena or trampoline park. But, again, it’s in the child’s (and everyone’s) best interest until further notice.
Should you withhold court-ordered parenting time?
I’m a family law attorney. I deal with high-conflict situations daily. I understand the reality that we are discussing co-parenting because it’s a hot-button issue. For you, there was some form of a divorce or custody case, and we are navigating many different challenges. Communication is probably at the top of the list. Differing values may be a close second.
We are approaching Spring Break, and airplane travel is not recommended. Putting a child on a plane isn’t the best idea (and that’s putting it lightly). My advice to those parents who demand that the custodial parent put the child on a plane, regardless of the stellar health of all those in their household, is this: Think first before demanding your parenting time. What does it get you, other than a bill for lawyer fees? The answer: bad data. The courts will look back at this time and see how the parents acted. Did they prioritize their child’s health and well-being, or did they escalate the conflict? Did they try to collaboratively co-parent? Did they foster love and affection toward the other parent, or did they spew venom and bring their child into the dispute?
In-State or Local Parents:
What happens if you, as the primary residential/custodial parent, don’t feel comfortable with the hygiene plan/approach/belief system of the other parent who doesn’t share your concern about COVID-19?
My advice is to follow your instincts and communicate with the other parent. You can certainly engage your attorney, but that really should be the last resort. Don’t get pulled down into the negative space that you may have grown accustomed to and associate the other parent as the enemy. Empathy and a common focus on your true asset—your child—must be your priority. I get it, it’s easier said than done. Here are just a few examples of an extreme approach:
- Mom withholds parenting time because Dad doesn’t promote using Purell.
- Dad won’t return the child to Mom, despite 50/50 parenting time, because Mom doesn’t think coronavirus is real.
- Mom won’t return the child to Dad because Dad’s new wife has her own 50/50 parenting time arrangement with her ex-husband, and her ex-husband just dropped their kids off after travel to Seattle.
We are hearing similar stories everyday. These are extreme times. The Boulder courts are limiting hearings to only essential (emergency) matters. I suspect other courts are soon to follow. Parents are the adults; two adults created a human life together. That life is the important focus right now. Get your mind and your focus right.
The courts are available for emergencies. Maybe Dad has planned a trip to Italy for Spring Break and won’t reconsider. Is that an emergency? We think so, but we cannot guarantee that the court will agree. But, that is just one tree in a full forest.
The better approach, especially right now, is emotionally intelligent parenting that prioritizes the health of your child. Take the high road as much as possible. Now is the time to: (1) stop making excuses, (2) get over whatever it is that makes it impossible to co-parent, and (3) start trying harder. Put everything in writing. Be your best self right now. And, keep good notes.