As a firm we’ve been in-undated with calls and emails from separated parents begging for clarity around whether their children should be seeing both parents at the moment. The headlines are confusing, social media is scary and juggling work and home schooling is a huge ask for parents. Add to that the logistics of moving children between two homes and the situation can seem impossible.
So here are some practical tips to help you co-parent through the coronavirus epidemic.
Formal child arrangements
Child arrangements orders must be complied with and usual arrangements should be followed to avoid even more disruption to children and relationships (unless there are health or quarantine issues as explained below). Keeping in touch and keeping a routine will help children through a disconcerting time. The government have confirmed that children are permitted to travel between parents’ homes under the stay at home measures.
However, be flexible. Most parents will need extra support with care given children are home from school and many are trying to work. Parents who are key workers will be under particular stress. Grandparents are unable to plug the usual gap. Don’t stick rigidly to arrangements if they aren’t going to work for you, your children or your children’s other parent. Offer to help if you can (even if it’s not on your usual days). If step-parents are in the home and able to assist, say yes please.
The safety of your family
This is a frightening time, but risk assess arrangements. It may be a genuine fear but is it likely to come to pass?
Some parents are agreeing not to have face-to-face contact with their children to minimise particular risks. Most are continuing normal arrangements if everyone is healthy and taking whatever precautions they agree are necessary.
If anyone in the household is symptomatic or self-isolating it would not be sensible for a child to move to or from that household until the isolation periods required have passed. Telephone or video contact should be offered instead for the duration and arrangements made for the future when normal routines can resume.
Using public transport to move children between households is best avoided, and alternative arrangements should be made.
If older or vulnerable family members are in the household, new arrangements should be made for health reasons.
If there is a history of domestic abuse, do not feel pressured to agree to any change that feels unsafe and, if you need to make changes because of self-isolation or work commitments, consider whether you can ask a third party to communicate them.
Keep in touch with the other parent and, if you are frightened, share your fears. It should go without saying now that parents will not be taking children out and about but if you are concerned say ‘can I just check you will be staying at home?’ ‘Do you have enough hand sanitiser or shall I send him/her with a bottle?’ Ask nicely and respond compassionately (even if you feel restricted or picked on) – we are all unusually fearful at present. Try to remember that the thought of not seeing a child for a potentially undefined period is going to create some huge emotions – be kind.
If you can’t have face-to-face contact (even if you feel this is unreasonable) make the best of what you can have. Your life-long relationship with your child, ultimately, is not going to be irreparably damaged by these miserable weeks. And when this is all over, there will be an opportunity to sort out extra time (either by agreement or if necessary, by asking for a court order).
Use Zoom, FaceTime, Whats App to chat, draw, read stories, show and tell, help with school work, do PE with Joe Wicks etc. Most of your child’s home-schooling requirements will be online so log in and stay current and perhaps pick some tasks you can complete together remotely.
Keep in touch, put children first and stay safe.