Shared parenting is difficult enough, but during this or any time of uncertainty, it is even more difficult. Here are some tips and guidelines to make shared parenting during the COVID-19 pandemic less stressful.
- Follow your court order. This is advice that should be headed anytime, but given the potential for chaos and uncertainty, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently in Oklahoma, there is a suspension of hearings and court dates for thirty (30) days. This should not be an incentive to deviate from your court order. Do not withhold parenting time absent a sick or exposed child, immunocompromised child or a child with an underlying condition, or a shelter in place order.
Even though court dates may be further out, the penalties for withholding parenting time may be harsher once this crisis ends. If a Judge should find that visitation was withheld without a legitimate concern, that could lead to a detrimental impact on your entire case. If you have questions about whether withholding visitation would be proper given the circumstances, consult your attorney.
- If you have a conflict, try to resolve it. There is no better time than now to try to work together as parents to resolve disputes. Because there will be a lack of resolution from the judicial system, be in contact with each other as parents, your parenting coordinator, Guardian Ad Litem, and attorneys to resolve disputes during this time. Speak to each other about your concerns and recognize that if you cannot come to an agreement, the Court order should be your fall back.
- Be understanding with each other as parents. Understand, this is a global pandemic and there is a need for flexibility to the greatest extent possible. If there are visitations that are missed, work to ensure those are made up for the parent that missed visitation. If in-person visitation is not an option due to sickness or because a child is at-risk, encourage FaceTime, Skype, or telephonic visitation.
For parents that may lose jobs, face lost earnings, or other economic hardship, be understanding if payments with regards to activity fees, uninsured medical, and the like are late or only partially paid and be as accommodating as possible with payment plans. If there is an agreement regarding a payment plan, that should be communicated to your attorney and all payments should be properly recorded.
- Stay in contact with each other. Communication is the key not only to short-term shared parenting in this crisis, but for long-term shared parenting to work. It is especially important to communicate at this juncture as information is constantly evolving and recommendations are fluctuating by the hour. Make sure both parents have access to school portals, insurance cards and information, and primary care providers. Communicate if you or your child is feeling ill or if you are or your child is exposed to someone exhibiting symptoms.
Visits and diagnoses should be communicated as soon as possible. Because school is likely cancelled for your child, communicate if there needs to be a change in exchanges for pick up and drop off. If possible, pick a time close to school times to continue stability, for example 3:00 p.m. for pick up at your residence to limit exposure. If you cannot agree on a change to the exchanges, then remember to default to the court order.
- To be greatest extent possible avoid travel and follow CDC guidelines. To prevent conflict with each other, limit travel, exposure to third parties, those who have traveled outside the United States, and follow CDC guidelines and recommendations to stay healthy. If you believe it is not in your child’s best interest to travel or be exposed to third parties at this time, stay home.
Recognize that children model and follow parents and will watch your behavior during this time, so practice good hygiene and wash your hands and avoid touching your face.
- Stay in contact with your attorney. Because court dates are changing, it is important to stay in contact with your attorney on up-to-date courthouse closures and your new court dates. Your attorney may also not be seeing people face-to-face at the moment, so if you would like an appointment, ask about options for telephone, videoconferencing, or e-mail. If you have an emergency, ask about the best options for communication.