As if co-parenting after separation wasn’t hard enough, now parents have COVID19 to deal with!
Here are 5 tips to help you navigate the co-parenting landscape in this uncertain time.
1. Stick to your Orders – if possible
The Family Court has recently released a statement confirming that parents are expected to comply with existing Orders. However, the Courts do recognise that this is an unprecedented situation, and in some cases, strict compliance may not be possible. In those cases, where possible the “spirit” of the Orders should still be followed. If for example you have Orders that provide for a 50/50 arrangement, but the handover place in the Orders is no longer open, then provided it is safe to do so, you should continue to maintain the 50/50 arrangement, but agree on a new handover location.
If you are concerned that the existing Orders now pose a risk to yourself or the children, you should seek legal advice before you make any decisions.
If you do not have Orders in place, but have an informal agreement about the children, provided it is safe to do so, those arrangements should also continue unless you and your ex agree on something different. When in doubt, seek advice before agreeing to any changes.
2. Have a plan and present a united front
These are uncertain times for children, so the more that you and your ex can present a united front to the children, the better. Develop a plan for what you will each do in the event of particular events. For example, have a plan for what you will do if one parent tests positive for COVID19. By having a plan in place for contingencies, these will mean less stress for everyone if such an event occurs.
It is also a good idea to have consistent rules and routines in all households (as much as possible). You might want to set up a daily video call for the children with the other parent at a set time and have an agreed plan of when the children will do school work.
If you and your ex cannot agree, seek the assistance of professionals. Many counsellors, mediators and lawyers are offering online services as well as phone and video appointments.
3. Document any changes you agree on
If you and your ex do agree to change the arrangements in the short term (whether you have Court Orders or not) it is a good idea to document your agreement in a form you both agree with. This could mean sending emails or text messages with the details of the arrangements, or having your lawyers document something more formal such as a Parenting Plan. This will mean that not only are you on the same page in terms of the arrangements, but will mean future disputes about what was agreed at the time are hopefully avoided.
4. Keep the lines of communication open
At the moment, the Government guidelines are frequently changing, and an agreement that works this week, might not work next week. It is important that the parents keep in regular contact as changes happen, so they can agree as to what should happen if something unforeseen happens.
5. Protect yourself and your children
If you have fears about your safety, or that of your children, particularly if there is a history of family violence, seeking support and advice is the first thing you should do. The Courts acknowledge that in cases where there are safety concerns, agreements may not be able to be reached, and are encouraging those who think they (or their children) are in immediate danger to contact the police. The Courts are also continuing to hear urgent applications at this time for those who need court intervention.
It is understandable to feel isolated and overwhelmed at the moment. Your ex and your children are likely feeling the same way. You do not have to deal with this on your own. There are many services available to help you and your children through this time. Don’t be afraid to reach out.
Story courtesy of Kasey Fox, Family Lawyer and Director of the firm Farrar Gesini Dunn.