Custody Part 3:
This is a truly difficult topic for me to talk about because there are so many unique situations and I understand that some individuals cannot communicate with their child's other parent. So I must preface this addition to the series by saying that the advice I'm giving is general advice to help in the efforts of having a healthy co-parenting relationship during the pandemic. If you are unable to communicate a great place to start is mediation, there are still a lot of virtual mediators who are available even during the shutdown.
Check out this video featuring The Honorable Carolyn Yancey as she explains one of the values of using mediation as an alternative to communication:
The first thing I want to talk about is Transparency. It's very understandable for people who are going through a separation, a divorce, or who have a custody order to be on guard with what and how you communicate. While I would suggest following any agreement arrangement you have with the other party and heed the advice of your attorney, there are certain things that should be talked about openly such as:
- The precautions you are taking to safeguard your family from catching or spreading COVID-19
- While you may not agree with the measures the other person is taking as long as it is within the guidelines of the law you cannot and should not take countermeasures
- Finding ways to be a unified front to protect your families
- Try to find common ground and actions that you can take that you can agree on
- If you come in contact with someone who has Coronavirus or if you begin showing symptoms make sure to communicate that to the other party so proper arrangements can be made regarding parenting time as well as any possible risk of spread.
- While it's understandable to fear repercussions or judgment, the alternative can be a much worse situation.
- Have a willingness to be flexible
- It's a matter of when not if that you are going to have to make adjustments that deviate from your order
- Focus on working together to create a safe and healthy environment for your child/children
This is not an exhaustive list as much as some general points to make to start the conversation. The goal with any communication is to try to focus on how the decisions you make will affect the children that are involved. The communication should be well thought out; If you are asking for a change to be made: be able to present a plan for how you would like the change to go, be non-confrontational in your approach as well as in your response, be open to compromise, and try to refrain from drifting off-topic or bringing your emotions into the conversation by avoiding statements like “I feel…”
Lastly, I want to talk about changes specific to parenting time. This seems to be the area where most people are recognizing the fluidity of their situations. There are a multitude of reasons why one parent might need to change or make adjustments to parenting time, the thing to remember is that despite how much someone might “Need” to make a change unless you can both come to an agreement it is merely a request and the order should remain intact. Some things to keep in mind when making adjustments to parent time:
- I recommend documenting any and all changes together but at the very least you should keep your own documentation
- Clearly write out what changes are being made that are agreed upon
- Clearly explain the expectation of both parties
- Put a deadline on any agreement you make
- I understand that no one knows how long we will be under an executive order or when we might see some semblance of normality but even if you have to redo any temporary agreement on a weekly basis it is better than having an open-ended change
- Try to keep your changes as close to normal as possible
- With the exception of specific situations now is not the time to make drastic changes to schedule and/or living arrangements
- Keep your children in mind
- There is a lot going on that we as adults do not understand, now take into account that children are facing an ever greater uncertainty so the focus should be on maintaining a healthy approach to parenting time that is appropriate for your child
I understand that these are only a few answers to these topics and that every situation is different so an answer for one person might not apply at all to someone else. If you have any more questions regarding your order or if you feel your order is being violated make sure to contact your lawyer. If you do not have any current representation and have additional questions please feel free to reach out to me and I will do my best to find you the answer.
Jerkins Law, PLLC