How Do Custody and COVID-19 Mix?

How do you handle custody in the midst of the coronavirus? Read on for tips from Amelia Peck, LMFT.

Quarantine and social distancing are all anyone can talk about these days. When will schools reopen? When will the shelves at the grocery stores look less apocalyptic? However, for many people, the entrance of this COVID-19 lifestyle in our world has opened up some more complicated questions. Especially if your family is staying safe at home, and part of the family is in another home. So how do you make custody arrangements work right now?

The Divorce Continuum

The answer to this question heavily depends on where you are on the divorce continuum. Are you separated? Still in custody and visitation disputes? What is the current temperature of the relationship? Can you and your ex talk about this amicably or does every conversation turn into a knockdown drag out?

Depending on what is legally in place determines legally how many options you have. On the black and white end of things, the reality is courts are on hiatus, but court orders are not. Custody battles are intense and emotional. They are often a very bitter component during a divorce trial.

Gold Standard for Court Orders

Even though the courts won’t be in session for a bit, look into what legal options your state is offering. Are there virtual sessions with the judge or a court coordinator? Can you explore a temporary custody and visitation order to minimize back and forth for the children? Are there other safety concerns at play? Take a moment to assess your own situation and see what is in the best interest of the children during this complicated time.

Kids are always looking to a parent to set the example. So if you and their other parent can set your own standard of how to handle this early on, you’re going to be on a better path than most. If you can talk to your ex about how to approach the situation, try that first. Remember no one has faced a pandemic before, so it’s ok to not know all the best answers right away. Try to problem-solve together, and ask your kids what visitation they are comfortable with if they can engage in that conversation.

Stuck in Limbo

If you are in the middle of court proceedings and have a temporary custody order in place (temporary as in already set in place by your legal proceedings before COVID-19), contact your attorney. See what they advise that is in the spirit of getting the best possible outcome once court resumes. If communication with the other parent isn’t possible, see if your lawyers can communicate on your behalf. It’s better to have any custody situation agreed upon and professionally documented if you still have a long road ahead.

Handling Custody When You’re Newly Separated

If you are newly separated and are just trying to figure out your new lifestyle and then were confronted with COVID-19 standards, life just got more complicated. Often, in this stage emotions are raw and the future is unknown.

Do whatever you can in the best interest of the child. What resources are available to help with transportation between homes, and are there safety concerns related to COVID-19 to consider. If one of you is living with an elderly relative right now, having kids around may not be in anyone’s best interest.

Stick to Facts

There is a lot of information swirling around in the news cycles. A lot of it can be alarming and may trigger some emotional reactions that could have larger consequences later. If there is a restriction or preference you have while co-parenting during this time, share what facts are out there to support this. Facts are also helpful when discussing boundaries and limits you need to decide on together as co-parents. Strong feelings are present and accounted for during this time. Make sure you work to stay grounded and present when making these tough decisions.

Talk to Your Kids About Custody

It’s easy as parents, married or divorced, to forget to ask our child’s opinion. Sometimes it’s hard to know when it’s appropriate. However, they may have big questions about the custody agreement you come to and about the virus in general. You may need to have these conversations in the same sitting. Take it all a bit at a time. It’s ok to tell your children you don’t have all the answers. Tell them you are also sad and angry about all this. Allowing your emotion to show allows them to know it’s ok to feel those feelings too.

Remember this is temporary. We will get through this and will return to “normal” one day. Bur until then, remember to slow yourself down so you can make the best decisions possible to the best information you have. Enjoy each other when you’re together, there may be a time when your kid is older you wish you had so much of the time we’re experiencing now (just without COVID-19).

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