By Michael Aurit & Karen Aurit
COVID-19 has interrupted all of our lives and all parents are under immense pressure. While trying to comply with CDC guidelines, they are having to make difficult decisions regarding how best to parent during this pandemic.
For divorced spouses who are co-parenting, this situation presents unique challenges. Online Parenting Mediation offers you and your co-parent the opportunity to work together, with the guidance of a mediator, to resolve parenting disagreements in a respectful and thoughtful manner.
In this article, we will take a look at pressing questions parents are asking and provide possible solutions to help you navigate this crisis. Not all co-parents will agree on how best to parent and disagreements may arise.
An Online Parenting Mediation meeting can help co-parents avoid conflict and find resolutions to difficult disagreements. A professional family mediator will help you to establish a temporary plan that will provide stability for your kids as we all get through this crisis.
Will our parenting time agreements temporarily change?
- Current custody and parenting time orders are still binding at this time. As circumstances change, parents may need to enter into “temporary agreements” to address issues such as: parenting time schedule, education, pick-up, and drop-off procedures, child(ren)’s contact with people outside the family, establishing remote online parenting time, and/or a back-up plan in case one or both parents get sick.
- Parents can mutually agree to temporarily change their parenting time schedule based on their specific needs. Rather than maintaining a commonly followed 2-2-3 or 2-2-5-5 schedule, parents can move to a weekly exchange schedule. Or, if your schedules allow, temporarily establish one parent as the “weekday parent” and the other as the “weekend parent.” One parent may focus on schooling children at home while the other works during the week. Then, rotate for the weekend.
- Parents can agree to use video meetings so both parents stay in communication with the children each and every day. These video meetings could occur even several times per day if helpful to parents.
How often should we review our temporary modifications to our parenting time agreement?
- There is no set rule. Parents can mutually agree as to how often and under what circumstances they will review their temporary modifications. Co-parents can select a scheduled date or choose to review as often as they like. Other parents prefer to wait for an event, such as the start of school, to review.
- During difficult times, it is beneficial for co-parents to meet with a mediator to ensure all aspects of their parenting plan are addressed. This will help avoid conflict down the road.
Can we agree to “make-up” parenting time in the future if one of us temporarily gets more time with the kids?
- To reduce conflict and provide peace of mind, parents can proactively agree that any parenting time missed during the crisis will be “made-up” in the future. Parents can informally agree to this or they can choose to have documents filed with the court to ensure that the agreement is honored.
With everyone in the house 24/7, how can we navigate working and schooling from home?
- Daily schedules will be greatly influenced by the children’s ages and routines. Don’t expect things to go smoothly at first, they likely won’t. This will be a trial-and-error process. Start by working with your co-parent to assess each of your needs. Then, work together to establish a daily routine for the children. If possible, move your schedules around to fit your needs, such as working before the kids get up in the morning, or taking a longer mid-day break to do some homeschooling.
- Communicate with employers, teachers, and with each other and build a support system to deal with the stresses of working and schooling from home. A professional family mediator can help you and your spouse to develop new and thoughtful plans. They can help you to find creative solutions that provide you both, and your kids, with stability.
How can we transfer the kids from one parent to the other, and should we be transferring them at all right now?
- Parents may need to change their usual pick-up/drop-off routines. Consider meeting at a park or quiet parking lot. This allows you to maintain a safe distance from one another while swapping the kids. Make a game of it! Challenge the kids to race as fast as possible to the other parent or to hop, skip, and jump the entire way.
How can we agree to hygiene rules for both of our houses?
- Be mindful when discussing hygiene concerns and avoid personal attacks. The goal is to ensure that everyone’s safe. Parents can agree on general house cleaning protocols and how often the kids will bathe. Both parents can agree to educate the children about proper hygiene.
- Parents can work together to make sure they both have the supplies they need. To keep difficult discussions from getting out of control, co-parents can work with their mediator to come to mutually-beneficial agreements that they both can live by.
How do we establish boundaries around who we expose ourselves to during the pandemic?
- Co-parents can work together to create a list of the people with whom their child(ren) can have contact, such as caregivers and/or extended family. They might agree to no third-party contact at all. Co-parents can agree to update and modify this temporary measure as needed.
How will we help our kids stay in touch with and have in-person contact with loved ones?
- Carefully consider whether your children should have in-person contact with elderly family members. If you and your co-parent do not agree on this topic, find a compromise, such as having visits that adhere to social distancing recommendations, or your own personalized guidelines.
- Help your kids arrange a virtual game night with grandma and grandpa. How about a game of ‘socially-distant’ Yahtzee or Battleship? Missing out on Grandma’s baked goods? Have her give a virtual baking lesson that allows her to see the kids smiling faces.
How can we ensure that we will both have frequent, continuous contact with our kids?
- Mom and Dad can agree that the remote parent should have at least one hour of daily parenting time by video, and up to three hours on Saturdays. Preparations can be made so the remote parent can guide an art project with the child(ren) or walk them through baking a dessert. Keep doing the things you and your children love to do, just do them remotely.
If one of us gets sick, what will we do?
- Proactively prepare for the event of one or both parents getting sick. Parents can mutually agree that if one parent becomes sick, the other parent will temporarily have sole parenting time and the sick parent will have parenting time via phone and video chat.
- Give some thought to how you will manage should both parents or the children become ill. If you and your co-worker have concerns about how these situations might be handled, you can work with a mediator to put a legally-binding agreement in place. If this situation occurs, it is important to stay calm, stay safe, and make a plan.
Many more issues are arising for parents during this crisis. The key is keeping conflict low and quickly resolving disagreements. Since the courts are experiencing major delays and unlikely to provide answers, online mediation remains the most affordable, time-sensitive, and healthiest option.
By keeping up-to-date with the most recent information and weighing the best interests of your children, you and your co-parent will come to your best agreements and keep your kids healthy and happy. Some co-parents will need some assistance in communicating and reaching agreements during this pandemic.
The Aurit Center for Divorce Mediation offers Online Parenting Mediation services to help you develop a thorough and thoughtful temporary parenting plan. Your mediator can help you to maintain respectful communication and to stay on task. They will focus on providing you with helpful information, developing options, and generating creative solutions.
Armed with a parenting plan created through a mutual agreement in mediation, you, your co-parent, and your kids are set up for co-parenting success.