What Agreement? Custody And Co-Parenting During The Coronavirus

Co-Parenting During Coronavirus

You’ve probably read stories about what can happen during self-isolation with family or a partner. “Psychologists expect two sociological outcomes from quarantine: increased birth rates and divorces,” Daniel Kruger, a social and evolutionary psychologist says. Hello!!!?? Doctors seem to have forgotten a huge chunk of society, those of us who are divorced, and share custody, and what to do with our schedules!

Tomorrow,  I will be back in Canada and forced to self isolate, along with my daughter, who is coming back from Israel, tomorrow as well. But my son? He had stayed put, at this father’s house during March Break, as we switch off holidays. Is there someone who can tell me what to do when one child has to self-isolate (my daughter) but the other doesn’t (my son?) Like many divorced couples, I have one child who has travelled outside the country and one who didn’t.

So when it comes to custody and the coronavirus, I am confused, like so many others. Make that, I’m a lot confused! No one is talking about what happens if, for example, your ex took them out of the country for March Break, before the travel advisory, or were away when it was announced? Do you plan to stay away from your own kid, after a week not seeing them? Wait! I lied.

People are talking about custody, co-parenting and Coronavirus. Who are those people? Family lawyers, that’s who! (Does that really surprise you?) Whether smart or sneaky, many family law firms are plugging their services (mostly in the United States) for exes who don’t agree on self-isolation, seeing their kids, not seeing their kids, whether a child(ren) go back and forth between houses, and what us with custody schedules should really be doing, that’s in the best interest of everyone?

“If you are unable to reach an agreement and the child is not returned under the existing possession calendar, you may have recourse, so give us a call….” was posted on a family law firms website. It actually makes me sick, that co-parents in this unprecedented time, which I do find scary, can’t get their shit together. Instead of being contentious, this is a great time to prove you can co-parent and be compassionate, with the person you had a child with.

There have already been court cases. “The Coronavirus COVID-19 situation has placed into a question when divorced dad must return the kids to mom under shared custody and visitation orders from court, and vis versa. The primary issue is when does “spring break” end.”

“Get used to third parties helping out: Step-parents and significant others can be a source of friction for co-parents. But when kids are out of school and people are getting sick, expect that third parties are going to take on a bigger role,” said another lawyer, and this is true especially for blended families or those of us who are divorced.

Well, I’m not going to court over this, because a) everyone knows the last people you want your money to go to is lawyers, and b) Shouldn’t my son’s father and I figure this out on our own, and put our son’s health as a priority? Alas, what we already do differ on, however, is a plan when both my daughter I get home. Should my son stay with my ex, as we self-isolate, for two weeks, which would break my heart, but may be in my son’s best interest? Or, can we take it “day-by-day” as my ex wants to do. Does it matter that much, if we are all healthy, or seemingly healthy, and my son goes back and forth from my house to his father’s? I don’t know. I’m not a fucking doctor. But no one has really delved into what children of shared custody, should be doing, travel ban or not.

“A few things to consider: If you have more than one child, you and your ex may wish that the healthy child reside in one home, while the other parent cares for the sick child. Or, if one of you lives with an aging parent or someone else in a high-risk category, you may decide that the children (who likely interact with more people at school than the aging parent does in your home) should reside with the other parent, to prevent even the possibility of bringing home and spreading the virus,” read one article, which shows you how aggravating dealing with an ex and their ex-extended family can be!

Shockingly even my daughter’s father, who is completely rational and knows a lot of doctors, is in self-isolation in Calgary, after getting out of Aspen, texted me yesterday with these exact words: “Beck, you know, you shouldn’t be around Holt for 14 days. Just sayin.’” And Holt isn’t even his kid!

My daughter lives primarily with me. But my son’s father and I share custody 50/50.

My son’s father and I are also in unchartered territory, that’s for sure, and we had just finally started to really be seemingly on the route to actually become friendly. This Coronavirus could potentially set us back, if we don’t agree with each other. I have nothing in any custody agreement that says, “In case of a quarantine or a virus that leads to people hoarding toilet paper, our son should stay with blah, blah, blah…” Who saw this coming?

Again, from the little I’ve read out there, when it comes to custody and Coronavirus, there are no laws in place. You can’t keep your kid away from the other parent just because you’re worried. Pretty much every lawyer quoted says, “I don’t think there’s a right answer to this.”

Wonderful. Thank you.

I have more than one friend who travelled with their children, and they are all in self-isolation. All of them are arguing, with their exes, be it the other parent wanting to see their kids, or staying away from their kids, leaving the brunt of parenting to one parent. Virus or no virus, self-isolation or no self isolation, being a co-parent in this time is distressing. Can a doctor, not a law firm, please chime in?

The following, again, is from a lawyer, not a medical doctor specializing in viruses. “As if Coronavirus aka COVID19 hasn’t been disruptive enough, this viral nightmare is having unintended consequences for co-parenting and parenting time. Here are some tips for getting through it,” he begins. “Accept that you will have to interact more with your ex than usual: Just as we have all been forced to accept a variety of quick and unexpected changes as a result of COVID19, the same goes for co-parenting. Where parenting time exchanges may have been done at school (largely allowing you to not have to see or interact your ex), it may now have to be done at your respective homes for at least a few weeks.”

As awful as this sounds, this Coronavirus may just bring me and my ex closer. We BOTH really need to  be even better co-parents now. At first, I wasn’t so generous, I admit. I rather my son stay with me for 14 days, and self-isolate, than going back and forth between his father’s house and mine, as per our 50/50 custody arrangement. I warned him that he needs to get help on his days, for the two more weeks school is out. But his father gets a say in this, and we both need to realize  – just like all those trying to co-parent too – that for the next few weeks, co-parenting is also being put to the test.

The reality is, that I’ll probably need my exes help, he’ll probably need mine, and if either one of us gets sick, we will have to take care of our son. “Being rigid about the terms of a parenting time order in these circumstances will not serve anyone. Keep your schedule to the extent you can, and then go back to normal again once this madness is over,” suggests one lawyer.

Again, hello?? What do you do when one kid has to isolate and the other doesn’t. If I hear, “there’s no right answer,” or, ‘It depends,” I may just explode.

Yet another law office, offering advice for co-parents, and let’s be real, a lot of us can barely text our exes, without getting into awar about something that happened 4 years ago, says “in family law cases, we know that any gray areas are ones that are potentially rife with conflict. Thus, advance planning, preferably thru specific agreements and orders, will help avoid the stress and expense of future fights.

They want us with shared custody to discuss the following: the decision to self-quarantine if a child has been exposed? What about whether to send a child to an out-of-state vacation or make plans for childcare should schools be closed? What about whether to have the child continue to participate in certain extra-curricular activities? These can be incredibly challenging and difficult decisions for any parent to be faced with. Divorcing or divorced couples should do everything right now that they reasonably can to have conversations with their co-parent to resolve these issues wherever possible…”

One lawyer suggests you ask yourself the following questions, if you have “doubts,” moving forward, which is good. I have a lot of doubts right now. My ex wants to play it by ear and day-by-day. I want our son to stay in one house as I just don’t see how moving back and forth between houses, especially since I’ll be in self-isolation, is the best way to go. But…maybe my ex is right. It IS a grey area, so, maybe there is no right or wrong, and maybe it is just fine for our son to go between houses.

If you’re fighting over custody, this lawyer says to ask yourself, “If I were before a family court judge, would I be considered the unreasonable parent?

So I asked myself. On the one hand, it makes absolutely no sense for my son (who I miss so dearly) to come back to my house, when both his sister and me MUST be in isolation. BUT…I do think I’d be considered the “unreasonable parent,” if I demanded his father, who is healthy and hasn’t been in contact with anyone who has travelled, not see his son. And if I can’t see him for two weeks, I do think I’d be “unreasonable” to not put my child’s health, and everyone around him, too. So what to do? What to do?

It’s time to be compassionate. I know his dad will be vigilant. I’ll admit, too, that before this Coronavirus really got out of hand, before schools closed, I did tell him that he should find child care, on his days, which, in hindsight, wasn’t so giving of me. I have softened on that, and have told him I am willing to offer any support I can, as I think he will do for me. The Coronavirus is not just a test for couples, either to get pregnant, or to want a divorce. The virus is also a good test for how to co-parent. If there’s any time to be a good co-parent, it is now, no matter what relationship you have with your ex.

Still, right now, those of us who share custody need some sort of guidance. Right now, I would love a definitive answer, by a doctor, not a family lawyer. But, this is a good reminder for co-parents, that, “When you have another parent who’s unwilling to work with you, the only person that loses is the child.” The Coronavirus has turned the world upside down. At the very least, do not let it ruin your positive co-paretning. What are you doing, if you share custody?

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