7 Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic
Leaders from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and AFCC have released guidelines for coparenting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Seven Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorced/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID-19 Pandemic
From the leaders of groups that deal with families in crisis:
Susan Myres, President of American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML)
Dr. Matt Sullivan, President of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC)
Annette Burns, AAML and Former President of AFCC
Yasmine Mehmet, AAML
Kim Bonuomo, AAML
Nancy Kellman, AAML
Dr. Leslie Drozd, AFCC
Dr. Robin Deutsch, AFCC
Jill Peña, Executive Director of AAML
Peter Salem, Executive Director of AFCC
1. BE HEALTHY.
Comply with all CDC and local and state guidelines and model good behavior for your children with intensive hand washing, 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 the news 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. The custody agreement or court order exists to prevent endless haggling over the details of timesharing. In some jurisdictions there are even standing orders mandating that, if schools are closed, custody agreements should remain in force as though school were still in session.
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 did everything they could to explain what was happening and to keep their child safe.
This article was authored and published as a joint statement by the AAML and AFCC on March 17, 2020. Reprinted here with permission from AFCC. More COVID-19 resources from AFCC are available here.
Our Good Dads podcast recently received feedback from a listener who wondered about how a dad could be engaged in his child’s life when the child’s mother, with whom he is no longer on good terms, makes it extremely difficult for him to do so. Sadly, there are many dads dealing with this heart-breaking concern. We frequently hear stories from men in our New Pathways program about this issue. Their feelings of frustration and powerlessness are understandable.
For more than two decades I’ve also heard stories of parental alienation from men and women in therapy. It’s one of the reasons I started Good Dads. Here are some considerations I typically share with my clients and other men associated with Good Dads.
1) Take the long-term view. This situation will require considerable patience. It will not be over quickly. It is essential you view the actions you are taking each and every day as moving you even a little bit at a time in the right direction. One dad recently said to me, "We didn't get here overnight. I know I need to be patient."
2) Act with dignity and respect. You never move yourself closer to your chosen goal by behaving in angry and aggressive ways intended to intimidate or negatively impact your ex-partner and, as a result, your child. I'm not saying it's easy. I'm not saying the other party deserves it. I'm saying your child benefits when you do this and that is the most important thing.
3 Do remember your child with notes, cards, and occasional gifts even when you can't be together. Our New Pathways dads make Christmas cards, valentines, birthday cards, etc. and put them in a box they will someday be able to share with their child even if they don't have contact at this moment. What children want to know is, "Is my dad thinking about me?" This box, filled with evidence from over the months or years, can go a long way toward healing a relationship as an adult.
4 Your child will never thank you for speaking badly of the other parent. Again, it may be true. They may deserve it, but that is the only (in this case) mother the child is ever going to have. Let your child draw his or her own conclusions, which they will do over time.
5 As they become teens or young adults, children are often quite bitter and resentful toward one parent who tried to turn them against the other. This is encouragement for you to "hold on" and also not reciprocate with negative, caustic words of your own.
6 Pay child support. If this is an issue, always pay something, even if you can't pay everything. Consult with Child Support Enforcement. Through their New Pathways program, Good Dads has a special assistance for dads struggling in this area.
7 Do seek legal help for issues that cannot be resolved with time and patience. Also expect the legal option to take time and money. Nothing moves quickly through the courts.
8 Seek supportive relationships, i.e., other people who will encourage you, not just attempt to bring you down. The "ain't it awful" approach rarely moves anyone forward.)
9 Consider using mediation. MARCH (Mediation Achieving Results for Children) is a private, not-for-profit corporation governed by a board made up of representatives from participating judicial circuits, mainly mediators. Other members include a state legislator, judges, a family court commissioner, representatives from the Missouri Family Support Division, and a member of the Family Law Section of the Missouri Bar. Board and Advisory Committee members share a common goal in promoting mediation as a first alternative to be utilized by separated families in the dispute resolution process.
Dr. Jennifer Baker
In addition to serving as the Executive Director of Good Dads, Dr. Baker is also in private practice as a clinical psychologist specializing in work with couples and families. Questions ore comments may be addressed to Dr. Baker at firstname.lastname@example.org