Co-Parenting during quarantine has got parents all over the world scrambling.
How are you supposed to co-parent your kids when they’re home from school, you’re working from home, and the parenting plan you’ve got on paper has nothing to do with the reality you’re currently living?
What do you do if you and your co-parent have very different opinions about the kinds of health precautions your kids need to be taking right now? How do you handle those differences when your kids’ health hangs in the balance?
In short, how do you co-parent during quarantine in a way that makes sense and works for everyone?
Co-Parenting During Quarantine
No one in the U.S. today has ever had to co-parent their kids during a global pandemic before. CoVid 19 has thrown everyone into uncharted territory.
No one knows how long this crisis will last, or how serious it will get before it’s over. What’s more, the health pandemic is only one part of the overall crisis. The economy is also on shaky ground, and unemployment is increasing every single day.
All of those things have totally changed co-parenting in 2020.
If ever there was a time that families needed to band together, it’s now.
The fact that you and your ex may now be divorced, or are in the process of getting a divorce, doesn’t change the fact that you’re still a family. You’re a different kind of family, for sure. But, if you have kids together, like it or not, you’re still a family.
No matter what the differences are between you and your ex, now is the time to step up your game as parents and really put your kids first.
Putting Your Kids First
What does “putting your kids first” mean?
It means that, regardless of what your relationship with your ex (or STBX) may have been like up until this point, now is the time to bury the hatchet and level up your co-parenting skills.
Like it or not, that starts with a conversation. (If you and your ex have trouble communicating, now may be a good time to work on changing that!)
You and your ex (or STBX) need to discuss how both of you are going to co-parent during quarantine. If you have different opinions about that, you’ve got to discuss those differences rationally and, if you can, work out a deal.
After you do that, you need to write your deal down on paper.
While that may seem overly “legalistic,” the reason that you’re writing your deal down is NOT so that if one of you violates the agreement the other can take him/her to court later. (Although that could be a possibility if things got really out of control.)
The real reason you want to write your agreement down, though, is because writing it down will FORCE you to be clear. It will force you to see whether you really agree, or whether it just seems like you agree.
For example, if you think you agreed to do “A” and your ex thinks you’ve agreed to do “B,” when you start writing your agreement down you will immediately see that you really don’t agree at all.
Instead of taking the easy way out and just assuming (or pretending), you agree when you don’t, talk some more. Figure out what you really agree to do.
Write that down.
What Issues Do You Need to Address While You’re Co-Parenting in Quarantine?
The issues that you and your ex will need to talk about may vary depending upon your particular situation. But here are the biggest issues you will probably need to discuss right now.
1. Your Parenting Schedule in Quarantine
Since everyone is home right now, you may need to adjust your parenting schedule to accommodate everyone’s new stay-at-home schedule.
If your kids need to be home-schooled, someone has to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to do. If you and/or your ex are working from home, you’ve got to figure out when each of you will work, and when you will have time with your kids.
Finally, if you’re wise, you will figure out – in advance – what you will do if either you, your ex, or your kids, get sick. Given how contagious CoVid 19 is, you’re not going to want to shuffle the kids back and forth between houses if anyone is sick.
Make arrangements for calling and video conferencing now. The last thing you’re going to want to do is to negotiate the details of parenting calls when one of you is sick.
(TIP: If one parent has to miss time with the kids due to sickness you may want to agree that that parent will have “make-up” parenting time with the kids later. That way, no one will have to “lose” any time with the kids.)
2. The Health Precautions You (and Your Kids) Will Take Right Now.
The CDC’s recommendations about what to do (and not to do) during this crisis are clear. Stay inside if you can. Stay at least 6 feet away from others if you can’t. Wash your hands. Don’t touch your face. If you’re sick, stay home.
What’s not as clear is whether, when you go out, you should always wear a mask and gloves. Right now that depends on where you live and how widespread the virus is in your area.
If you and your ex can agree about what precautions you want your kids to take right now: Awesome! But, if you disagree (and you might!) then take a step back and ask yourself one question: “What will happen if I’m wrong?”
If you’re taking maximum precautions and it turns out that the virus passes without anyone you love getting sick, you may feel like you wasted a lot of time and effort. Your ex may complain about how neurotic you’re being. Your kids may do the same. That, however, will probably be the worst thing that will happen to them.
On the other hand, if you disregard all the CDC precautions and a few weeks from now you or your kids get horribly sick, then what?
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3. Child Support.
If you or your ex has lost your job, that can obviously affect how you can support your kids during this crisis. That may mean that you need to adjust child support (either down or UP!) temporarily.
In a perfect world, you and your ex will both be reasonable and will make any adjustments you need. You will be honest with each other about your current income and expenses. You will consider how much money each of you has coming in right now, and you will adjust support temporarily in order to accommodate everyone’s current income situation.
Remember that whatever changes you make don’t have to last forever. What’s more, you can even agree that after this crisis is over, the person who received more (or didn’t pay as much) child support will reimburse the other parent for the over/underpayment.
(TIP: If you think of any changes you make as temporary adjustments rather than permanent changes, negotiating those changes will be easier.)
Finally, remember that most courts are currently closed. That’s both a blessing and a curse.
Closed courts mean that you can’t officially change your child support order right now. On the other hand, you also can’t get a judge to enforce your child support order either.
What if You and Your Ex Can’t Agree?
All of these co-parenting changes can be both disconcerting and disruptive. But, if you and your ex can at least agree on the changes you want to make to your co-parenting during quarantine, you’re way ahead of the game.
The harder circumstance occurs when, no matter how hard you try, you and your ex just don’t see eye-to-eye.
What happens then?
Alternative Dispute Resolution
Before most of the courthouses closed, if you and your ex didn’t agree on something, you could just go to court and have the judge decide the issue for you. Now that’s not an option. You can only present an issue to the court for resolution now if you have a real emergency.
Unfortunately, what you might think is an emergency may be very different than what a judge right now thinks is an emergency. (If you’re not sure about what your courts in your area will consider an emergency, ask your divorce lawyer.)
The bottom line is that given our current situation, getting a judge to help you can prove to be challenging.
Thankfully, judges aren’t the only ones who can resolve disputes.
Mediators can help you resolve your disputes as well.
Mediators work independently from the court system. They can also work remotely. So, even though the courts are closed, mediators are not.
If you and your ex can agree to mediate your dispute, you can easily find a mediator who will mediate your issues via video conferencing. The mediator can also write up your agreement for you. That agreement will then govern how you and your ex manage your parenting issues during quarantine.
The only catch with mediation, however, is that it is a voluntary process. If your ex refuses to mediate an issue, you can’t force him/her to do so.
If that happens, then what do you do?!!
Dealing with a Difficult Spouse While Co-Parenting in Quarantine
If your ex (or STBX) is a narcissist or is just a difficult person, negotiating your way out of this crisis is going to be difficult. Reaching an amicable agreement with your ex about anything is difficult. It may be impossible.
Even using a mediator is not likely to help. Chances are, your ex won’t even agree to try to use a mediator.
So, what can you do?
The answer right now is, unfortunately, not much.
If your ex won’t compromise, won’t put your kids first, and won’t be flexible about anything during this crisis, there’s not much you can do to force him/her to be reasonable.
Co-parenting with a narcissist is rough in the best of times. Co-parenting during the coronavirus quarantine with a narcissist isn’t going to be any easier.
At the same time, there are some strategies you can use to try to get through this crisis without losing your mind or endangering your kids. Here are some of them:
1. Learn how to talk to your ex calmly.
It may not seem fair that your ex is the one who is difficult, but YOU are the one who has to tiptoe around and cater to him/her in order to get anything done.
The truth is, it’s not fair. But life’s not fair. You either deal with that fact, or you get crushed by it.
If your ex is “difficult,” s/he is not likely to change in a crisis situation when everyone is under more stress. it’s up to you to figure out how to have a conversation with your ex so that you can do what’s best for yourself and your kids. (If you want some tips on how to have those difficult conversations, CLICK HERE.)
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2. Get Support.
No one – especially someone who is married to a “difficult spouse” – should go through a divorce alone. Even if your divorce is already over, if your ex is a narcissist, an addict, is abusive, or has other behavioral problems, you need help dealing with him/her.
Find a divorce support group. Many of them are operating online now. If your ex is addicted to alcohol or drugs, Al-Anon can be a Godsend for you. They, too, are operating online. If your ex is physically abusive and you are afraid for yourself and your kids, call the Domestic Violence hotline. It’s still open 24/7/265.
Finally, if you’re just feeling depressed, anxious or overwhelmed, get a therapist. BetterHelp is the world’s largest online counseling service. They can match you with a counselor within 24 hours so you can start getting the support your need right away.
Right now, you need to do whatever you need to do to keep the peace and get yourself and your kids through this crisis. If that means that you have to cater to your ex’s ego in order to do that, so be it. It won’t be fun, but it won’t kill you either.
Of course, there are some things (like your kids’ safety) you can’t compromise about. But remember, studies consistently show that conflict hurts kids the most.
Before you go to the mat over something with your ex, make sure it really matters. Make sure you’re fighting over something that is truly dangerous and that whatever you’re arguing about is both urgent and important. If it’s not, let it go.
Just because you may not be able to do much to curb your ex’s crazy behavior now, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be consequences later.
While you may not want to take your ex back to court for every little thing that happens during this quarantine, if an issue was truly big enough, and if your ex’s crazy behavior continues past this immediate crisis, you might need to address it. In order to do that, however, you’re going to need to be able to remember exactly what happened and when it happened, so that you can tell it to your lawyer, and maybe to a judge.
That means you may want to keep a journal. Write down what your ex does, and the date that everything happened. Later, if you need to (and you decide it’s worth it!) you can use your journal to refresh your memory about the details of various events.
5. Let go and let God.
No one wants to hear that. But some situations are simply out of your control.
For example, if a court order says your kids have to see your ex at certain times, then you need to let your ex see your kids at those times. You need to do that even if you think your ex is being irresponsible and letting the kids have too much social contact, or not making them wash their hands. As hard as it may be to deal with that fact, you still need to follow the court order. If you don’t, you will be in contempt of court. Being in contempt of court often has serious consequences, none of which are pleasant.
The bottom line is that, sometimes, as a co-parent, you need to do things that you don’t want to do. That was true before the CoVid-19 pandemic. It’s still true now. Yes, that sucks. Praying a lot helps.
Co-Parenting During Quarantine
Co-parenting during a global pandemic isn’t easy. There is no playbook for how this should go. Divorce professionals are struggling to deal with this situation the same way that you are.
Yet, in times of crisis, when everyone is struggling, nothing helps more than patience, compassion and good old-fashioned common sense.
You know what’s important to you. You know what you care about. If you dig down deep inside of yourself, you also know what you should do, and what you have to do, to get yourself and your kids through this crisis.
Luckily, this quarantine won’t last forever. This virus won’t last forever. While life may never be exactly the same again, it will still go on. As John Lennon once said,
“Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.”
Another thing that can help you and your ex (or STBX) manage your co-parenting more amicably is a co-parenting app. Choosing that app from the dozens that are on the market, though, can be confusing.
I’ve made it easy for you.
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