Divorce and Separation / Relationships

Divorce During COVID-19: How to Share Custody During Lockdown

By: Katherine Miller 

Covid-19 has struck our nation, changing the way we live our daily lives. If you are separated or divorced, you know how difficult co-parenting can be under the best of times. During the Covid-19/coronavirus pandemic, social distancing and anxieties about the virus can make co-parenting especially challenging.  

Parents who have been co-parenting effectively will need to increase their level of communication in order to minimize the risk to themselves and their children of contracting the Covid-19.  Parents who have had more tension or difficulty may really struggle during this time. To make things harder, courts are closed for all, but emergencies and courts define “emergency” to exclude most co-parenting disputes.

Here are some tips that all parents can easily follow to maximize their chances for successful co-parenting during the coronavirus scare

  1. Over Communicate 

This is the time to over-communicate about your children and your plans. A very tight and coordinated co-parenting plan will make the whole family safer. Frequently under normal circumstances, one parent feels that the other parent’s questions about where they’re going with the children, what they’re doing, with whom they’re spending time with, might feel intrusive and controlling.  During this unparalleled time, these questions are appropriate. If overcommunication is difficult, or even impossible, there are 2 options that can help.

  1. Use Co-Parenting Apps
    Several companies offer co-parenting communication apps for parents that have trouble communicating effectively. Some even have the capacity to correct your tone. Our Family Wizardand Two Housesare two such examples of those apps.
  2. Virtual Mediation
    A fully- facilitated conversation is key to finding a solution that works for both parents (and most importantly, for the children) as courts are unavailable to help.  Virtual mediation through video conferencing gives parents the opportunity to work through very challenging conversations while maintaining social distancing.
  3. Maintain Flexibility

Remember, during this health-crisis, everyone is in the same boat. This could mean losing a job, working from home, homeschooling and managing childcare all at the same time. What was reasonable at another time, is not reasonable now. And conversely, what was not reasonable at another time, maybe totally appropriate now.

Now it might make sense to substitute a video call for an in-person visit. Maybe it makes sense to keep the children in one parent’s home and have the other parent visit there. Or maybe it makes sense to move in together for a period of time. Don’t worry about setting a precedent about not visiting or missing time. These are difficult and unusual times.

  1. Prepare for the Long-term and Proceed with Caution

Although this time is difficult and tensions are running high, this crisis will pass. This means that the behavior you demonstrate now will either enhance or detract from your future co-parenting relationship or any pending court case – or both.  Use common sense and seek guidance if you don’t know what to do.

  1. Follow the Lockdown Order and all Custody Orders, If Possible.

Be aware that your behavior now may well have a huge impact on the outcome of a pending divorce or custody case. If a judge feels you put your children at risk by taking them to public gatherings, that might reflect badly on your parenting skills in the future.  Conversely, if a court finds that you have used this crisis to unreasonably withhold the children from the other parent, they will likely view that behavior critically, especially if that behavior is in violation of an existing custody order.  

ABOUT the Author:

Katherine Miller is the founder of the Miller Law Group and a Director and Trainer with the Center for Understanding in Conflict.  She has been working in the field of family law for more than 30 years as a mediator, as well as an advocate. She also hosts the radio show/podcast Divorce Dialogues. In addition, she is co-author of the #1 Amazon bestseller “A Cup of Coffee with 10 of the Top Divorce Attorneys in the United States” and is the author of the “New Yorker’s Guide to Collaborative Divorce.”  Her many media accolades include interviews on CBS New York, NBC New York, as well as features in New York Times, Newsday, Money Magazine, Splitopia, TheStreet.com, Huffpost, and BravoTV.

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