Life as a separated parent can be a challenge at the best of times and parenting can be both a joy and a stress, but in a world where the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting on where we can go and what we can do, how do parents ensure their post separation parenting arrangements will continue to work?
Perhaps you have legally binding court orders and you aren’t sure how to comply with them and keep your children safe from harm. Most parents want to do the right thing and they know the children’s relationship with the other parent is important and valuable, but they also want to follow the advice we are all receiving from the government and medical experts to stay home and avoid certain activities. How can you do both without ending up in a family law dispute?
Here are a few ideas to keep in mind:
- You and your family need to stay healthy and ensure you follow government guidelines to reduce the risk of spreading the virus from one household to the next. Let the other parent know what you are doing in your home so they can take similar steps themselves.
- If a court order or agreement is in place, you must still follow these arrangements unless there is a good reason not to. If arrangements become unclear or cannot be met because of quarantine, travel restrictions, because schools close, or another reason, use common sense to find solutions to challenges.
- You may need to adapt or find creative solutions such as finding an alternate neutral location for changeover such as a petrol station, grocery store, or perhaps a police station if there are significant safety concerns. Make sure physical distancing practices can be maintained whichever option you decide upon.
- If it is safe to do so, communicate with the other parent about your concerns and what you plan to do if someone in your household, including yourself or your child, develops flu like symptoms or is mandated to isolate themselves for a period of time.
- Work out ways for the other parent to stay in contact with the children via Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime or more regular phone calls.
- Talk to your children about keeping their schoolwork together so they can easily transport it from one home to the other without missing anything vital. As parents, you may need to ensure both households have access to school portals and information, as well as any supporting technology or internet access.
- Help your kids to develop a daily routine to get their school tasks and homework completed, as well as other fun activities. Talk to the school or teacher if you are unsure about what they need and convey this information to the other parent if communication between you is safe.
- Find ways to communicate with each other which ensure your children are protected from possible parental conflict, unresolved and difficult discussions or hearing adult information. You may want to trial using email, messaging or perhaps a trusted person to assist you both if communication is too difficult or perhaps unsafe. There are also communication apps out there like Divvito or My Family Wizard or consider using a shared calendar through Google.
- This may be an opportunity for you and the other parent to role model to your children how you are working together as a team. You can agree on a combined or united message about any anticipated changes to their care and use language such as “Mum and I have decided…” or “Dad and I had a chat and have come up with this plan…”. Showing children that you are working together to make sure they are taken care of during this time will be reassuring and stabilising. Even if you haven’t reached a clear plan yet, using collective language can still be helpful for children to hear e.g. “We [parents] are working on that and as soon as we have a plan, we’ll let you know.”
- If you are finding it difficult to work out alternate arrangements together, don’t forget that we are still available to provide family dispute resolution (mediation) at our Family Relationship Centres. Our mediators will work with you over the phone or through video conferencing to negotiate solutions that will work well for you and your children during this time.
- Please remember the Family Law courts are also there to help families reach urgent orders or to file consent order agreements. The courts are still open although most of their services are now electronic. You can contact the court for more information and advice.
This is not an easy time. There is a lot of uncertainty about what this pandemic is going to mean for the future in terms of employment, schooling, health and our families. If you do contact one of our Family Relationships Centres your first appointment will be a telephone call with a Family Advisor who will help you to make a decision about what kind of services could be helpful. They can help you decide whether to invite the other parent into a mediation process or find individual support for yourself. This telephone session with a Family Advisor is free of charge.
If you are struggling with anxiety, overwhelming emotions or stress, our counselling services are also still available for individuals and couples. Counselling may be over the phone, but we are still here for you to support you and your family