With Covid-19 cases increasing, Governor Greg Abbott has paused additional reopening phases for the State of Texas. The pausing of plans to reopen has created a new set of obstacles for even amicable co-parents to navigate. Staying out in front of these issues is critical, so you can create a plan that you both agree to follow. Essential questions include what activities and places are safe for your children and what decisions are in the best interest of your children. While one parent may be more relaxed about letting the child return to “normal” activities, the other might want to continue to limit exposure. Not surprisingly, many parents have differing views on these topics.
1. Communication is key – prepare, plan, and be clear with your expectations.
Talk to your co-parent and define how you plan to handle the early phases of reopening, what precautions you are still taking, and your expectations regarding what is and is not acceptable. Will there be playdates, trips to the store, and so forth? This was an easy “no” for most from mid-March through May, but now, but as the reopening phases have started and stopped, this has changed.
Other questions to ask and discuss with your co-parent might include:
- Should our child have a playdate?
- Is it okay to hire a babysitter/nanny? Or to send kids to daycare/camps?
- Will you be we taking our children to stores or restaurants?
- Is either parent keeping their summer plans? If so, how are they traveling and to where?
- Is either parent about to return to traveling for work?
- Is a household member, such as a grandparent, in a high-risk group? How will that be addressed?
Transparency is also important. If you think you may have had exposure to COVID, let the other parent know immediately, so it can be dealt with in a way that ensures your child’s health and wellbeing. Try to have a plan with your co-parent about what to do if one of you is exposed.
2. Find common ground.
Finding common ground on which you and your co-parent can agree. For example, I think most parents can agree that they want their children to be happy, healthy and safe during the ongoing pandemic. Use this, or a question listed above as a springboard to help discuss the more difficult questions. A little grace and patience with your co-parent can go a long way.
Many parents are now expected to be back in their workplace, and still need to care for their children. Getting people back to work requires significant childcare solutions – what are those options? Brainstorm solutions with the other parent. With respect to finding common ground on possession of the children, look at both parents’ current work schedules. Many workplaces, especially some of the larger tech companies based in Austin, have announced they will continue to allow employees to work from home for the rest of the year. Can you find opportunities to adjust schedules so the child can be cared for by one parent or the other rather than bringing in other people to your child’s social circle?
If you are struggling with differences in opinions arise, relying on your pediatrician for advice can be very helpful.
3. Put your child first!
Our children are under enough stress right now – most had no traditional “wrap-up” to the school year, they missed their support system at school for a couple of months, and they are having a “bummer summer”—feeling stuck in the middle of their parents fighting is the last thing they need. Commit to respect – respect for yourself, respect for your child, and respect for your co-parent.
If you are resistant to a change suggested by your co-parent, ask yourself if this is about you or about the children, and what is making you resist? Your past with your ex has little to no relevance now, and what is important is allowing your kids to have healthy and caring relationships with both parents and keeping your kids safe and healthy.
4. Document, document, document.
Courts all over the country made very clear that stay-at-home orders did not apply to custody agreements. This remains the case now that stay-at-home orders are being lifted.
It seems that once the courts open back up for in-person hearings, emergencies will still be prioritized for a while, and then a flood of hearings surrounding the pandemic is likely. Any agreements you make that alter your court order should be in writing, and if it is meant to be temporary, then say it is temporary in your written agreement. Keep a journal or a calendar. Send each other fact-based texts or emails. I believe judges will be less than pleased with parents who put their interests ahead of their child’s and rejected reasonable attempts to cooperate with their coparent. Having documentation to back up why you did what you did helps. If you are keeping records, you can show the efforts you made and what you were doing to keep your child safe.
Keep checking your communication with the other parent and do not buy into an argument over text or social media, because it can very easily be used against you.
5. Call a professional if a significant conflict arises.
Do not be afraid to reach out to your lawyer or therapist if you need to, especially if you believe your child is truly at risk. Use your best judgment and if you still have questions, reach out for help. Lawyers and therapists often see things in a different way, so do not be afraid to ask for help and guidance. Although the pandemic’s specific nuances are novel, parental disputes over the health and safety of their children are common and involving a third party to assist and provide support is often well worth it.