Seven Guidelines for Parents Who Are Divorce/Separated and Sharing Custody of Children During the COVID19 Pandemic
Leaders from the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML) and AFCC have released guidelines for coparenting 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.
The decision to divorce is never easy. The odds are that you don’t know how to handle it and, even if you did, the emotions and context won’t allow you to see the forest through the trees. It can be a painful experience that leaves scars upon your soul, but it doesn’t have to be. An effective mediation with mediation friendly attorneys can help you through this. If you’ve chosen, or the court has ordered, mediation, the best thing you can do is be prepared for the process. Every divorce case is different. Your case is its own and you can’t compare it. Your advocate lawyer will help you evaluate your own situation and give very personalized advice. It is essential that you connect. As both a mediator and a divorce attorney, this is what I tell clients about divorce:
1. It Will Be Stressful. If you’ve so far dodged the bullet of litigation, you are among the fortunate. That said, having to sit at a table to negotiate, speak to and hopefully agree on every aspect of your former marital life while being split up is not fun or easy. So you will want to make sure that the mediator creates a comfortable environment and your lawyer gives you a good idea of what is ahead. In some cases, your lawyer will be by your side in each session. In others, you may meet with just your ex-spouse and the mediator. There is no right or wrong.
2. Nobody Can Resolve a Divorce Better Than You. As full of rage and hurt as two people on the brink of uncoupling are, it is a known fact that a judge or an arbiter or anyone else can’t possibly understand the relationship between you and your soon to be ex as well as you can. It is only natural then that you should be the ones negotiating the agreement rather than having one imposed on you by someone else. Yes, it isn’t easy to communicate all the time with someone you are about to be forever without, but you can do this!
3. You Will Be in Control. Not being in court has its perks. You control it, not the attorney or the judge. You can get the results that work best for you both and your family.
If you are interested in mediation or are thinking about needing representation in your divorce, or even if you are currently in mediation and see the need for an advocate, please feel free to contact me, it would be my honor to help. I can and I will.
Thank you to all who reached out to me regarding my Thanksgiving post. With more holidays coming (and fast!), perhaps I can explain a little more how mediation can help prior to, during, or post-divorce. I am not a therapist, nor can I fix your marriage, but I can help, from a neutral perspective, to address immediate and important concerns. The holidays is an example, but just about anything can be solved in mediation.
Mediation is not only used as a big picture the to divorce, it is often used to address smaller, specific challenges that help us to keep the eye on the ball. These urgent and crucial concerns actually can be the big picture and we can’t move towards anything unless this is addressed and agreed to. No matter how trivial one of you may think something is, if it's important to the other (and to the kids), let’s deal with that now.
I am often asked to help with where the kids go for the holidays and no greater disagreements come than around Christmas. When you were married, you had a plan and the kids were in tow, but now that you aren’t together, where do the kids go? This is one of the many ways that mediation can help. I have worked with countless couples and have helped amicably resolve these challenges many times. What you decided when they were 10 and 8 years old may not work anymore. It doesn't mean that it has to be carved in stone just because it was in your agreement. Mediation works post-divorce, too. Instead of arguing that it’s simply what the agreement says, maybe you can agree to change some things and maybe even get some of the things you wanted in return. In mediation we come up with an immediate plan, though maybe not perfect, that allows you to make decisions that work. Sometimes we have to let go of ego or traditions in order to do what is best for the family….the newly defined family.
You can and will make co- parenting work, even during the holidays. If you need help, I am here. Schedule a free consultation by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org and you’ll see what I mean. Own your outcome!
Thanksgiving can be a particularly difficult holiday to plan for and experience after a divorce. No matter what you agreed to regarding custody for the holiday, it’s hard to imagine not being able to keep that “family tradition” going. You haven’t yet reached the new “normal” from the divorce and it may not be easy emotionally to cope. But just because you have a plan for the holidays and agreement in place, let’s not forget that your family and your ex-spouse’s family are still your children’s entire family. Think about the benefits of co-sharing these holidays, whether physically or emotionally, for your children and for the sake of being great co-parents. Being successful co-parents may require “outside-of-the-box” thinking, regardless of what your divorce agreement says. Here are a few new ideas for Thanksgiving and co-parenting:
1) Thanksgiving Breakfast and Dinner: For some parents and children, the thought of not spending quality time together on Thanksgiving is extremely upsetting. But there is an alternative to the standard “alternating years.” Although most think of Thanksgiving as a dinner tradition, why not also create a new tradition of having a Thanksgiving breakfast as well? As parents you can agree that the one who doesn’t have Thanksgiving dinner can have them for Thanksgiving breakfast. It won’t work if you're flying to Florida and you’ll have to agree to keep the breakfast fare light because “Aunt Ellen” would “just die” if the yams aren’t gone…but you get the point. Believe me, your children will appreciate having time with each parent on the holiday and it can become your new unique annual tradition.
2) Thankfulness: Whenever you can on this holiday, try to be thankful for everyone in your life, even your former spouse. Everyone has their own set of traditions. If your family is like mine, perhaps you go around the dinner table giving “thanks” for things. How would your children react if, on your thankful list, you included your former spouse this year? Your children will appreciate knowing that you are thinking of their other parent in a positive way. Emotionally and developmentally, your children will only benefit hearing you talk and act in this way (and reminder that it would be helpful to do this all the time, not just once a year). Even if you do not have a great relationship with your ex, I promise you this will go a long way with your children.
3) Hosting Thanksgiving Yourself?: Consider extending an invitation to your former spouse, even if he/she has a new family. Being together for the holidays can have a significantly positive impact on your children, so long as there is no conflict between parents. It may also set an amazing imprint on your children, and create lasting memories. We are talking about one day - Thanksgiving. Think about how many worse “one-day’s” you have survived through. You may actually be pleasantly surprised with the outcome.
4) Friendsgiving: If you are not going to see your children on Thanksgiving, maybe sometime soon before or soon after you re-create the spirit of the holiday and have your children and some friends and their children over for a “Friendsgiving”. Perhaps you even invite your former spouse, too. You can ask everyone to bring a dish and all share the meal together, even if it’s not the actual day. Less stress, same concept of thanks…and more leftovers!
You’ve gone through a divorce. It’s tough to be thankful for that, but you should still be thankful for what has been accomplished, if nothing else, those amazing kids of yours! Try for this holiday, and for every day, to keep the kids above all else and be thankful for them and what you can do for them and you can always be thankful to your former spouse for them.
Happy Thanksgiving from my family to yours!
Divorce is an emotional and stressful process for the entire family. Divorce mediation is an informal process with a neutral third party in which disagreements are discussed, resolved and a way forward is agreed upon. It is a gentler, faster and significantly less expensive alternative to a litigated divorce. The Mediator guides the parties to identify the issues, identify the options and help the parties decide which options work best for them. The Mediator will put all of this in a written Memorandum of Understanding ("MOU") that will be submitted to the Court by your our lawyers as a Marital Settlement Agreement ("MSA" or "PSA") and made into a legally binding agreement. Essentially, in mediation we help a couple write the terms of their own divorce. During your divorce mediation process, we’ll help you make decisions about:
-Property division & Equitable Distribution: Decide how to distribute your assets and liabilities, including your home, businesses, pensions, retirement and other investments and division of debt.
-Child Custody: Form a parenting plan and make decisions about child support, legal child custody and physical custody, educational expense after divorce, and other expenses such as camp, activities, vacation and travel.
-Alimony and Spousal Support: Discuss the amount and tax implications of alimony when your alimony ends.
-Other issues: Pets; adult children; grandparent visitation; special needs; and health issues
Mediation is far less expensive than the costs of adversarial litigation. You are free to set the pace of the process. While the vast majority of people that begin the process with us complete the process in a short amount of time, you are free to stop at any time for any reason and continue when you are ready. All of this would be in a written, signed mediation agreement.
Scott W. Orr
A dynamic, seasoned, and innovative legal professional with broad and in-depth experience as a lawyer and corporate legal officer/executive. Skilled mediator with recognized ability to identify, Learn more