Note: Many family law mediators and collaborative professionals, including this office, are continuing to work remotely with parents during the shutdown, helping families adapt to this new reality. Please contact our office if we can be of service.
Here is some advice based on recommendations made by the leaders of groups that deal with families in crisis.
1. BE HEALTHY.
Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive handwashing, wiping down surfaces and other objects that are frequently touched, and maintaining social distancing. This also means BE INFORMED. Stay in touch with the most reliable media sources and avoid the rumor mill on social media.
2. BE MINDFUL.
Be honest about the seriousness of the pandemic but maintain a calm attitude and convey to your children your belief that everything will return to normal in time. Avoid making careless comments in front of the children and exposing them to endless media coverage intended for adults. Don’t leave CNN on 24/7, for instance. But, at the same time, encourage your children to ask questions and express their concerns and answer them truthfully at a level that is age-appropriate.
3. BE COMPLIANT with court orders and custody agreements.
As much as possible, try to avoid reinventing the wheel despite the unusual circumstances. Keeping to a familiar timeshare routine may be comforting to a child who is experiencing the loss of all their other routines, such as going to school, church, sports, or extra-curricular activities. Work cooperatively with the other parent to minimize disruption. If possible, keep the regular schedule, working together to create a plan for your child during the school day that will work in both households.
4. BE CREATIVE.
At the same time, it would be foolish to expect that nothing will change when people are being advised not to fly and vacation attractions such as amusement parks, museums and entertainment venues are closing all over the US and the world. In addition, some parents will have to work extra hours to help deal with the crisis and other parents may be out of work or working reduced hours for a time. Plans will inevitably have to change. Encourage closeness with the parent who is not going to see the child through shared books, movies, games and Facetime or Skype.
5. BE TRANSPARENT.
Provide honest information to your co-parent about any suspected or confirmed exposure to the virus, and try to agree on what steps each of you will take to protect the child from exposure. Certainly both parents should be informed at once if the child is exhibiting any possible symptoms of the virus.
6. BE GENEROUS.
Try to provide makeup time to the parent who missed out, if at all possible. Family law judges expect reasonable accommodations when they can be made and will take seriously concerns raised in later filings about parents who are inflexible in highly unusual circumstances.
7. BE UNDERSTANDING.
There is no doubt that the pandemic will pose an economic hardship and lead to lost earnings for many, many parents, both those who are paying child support and those who are receiving child support. The parent who is paying should try to provide something, even if it can’t be the full amount. The parent who is receiving payments should try to be accommodating under these challenging and temporary circumstances.
Adversity can become an opportunity for parents to come together and focus on what is best for the child. For many children, the strange days of the pandemic will leave vivid memories. It’s important for every child to know and remember that both parents, working as a team, did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.
Credit to: Susan Myres, President of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) Jill Peña, Executive Director of AAML Dr. Matt Sullivan, President of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) Peter Salem, Executive Director of AFCC Joey Orduña Hastings, CEO, National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges Annette Burns, AAML and Former President of AFCC Kim Bonuomo, AAML Nancy Kellman, AAML Yashmine Mehmet, AAML Dr. Leslie Drozd, AFCC Dr. Robin Deutsch, AFCC