COVID-19 has taken the planet by storm! From a wild meat market in Wuhan, China all the way across the oceans in every direction. Its relentless force has all but brought the world as we once knew it to a screeching halt. There are not many corners of the earth from which this virus has hidden its face. Of course blended families are no exception. How has COVID-19 impacted your blended family?
Take Liz and Errol. Errol has a 3-year old daughter, Angel, with his ex-girlfriend who is now unable to attend her preschool due to COVID-19. Liz, Errol’s current wife, does not yet have children of her own but has been in Angel’s life for the past year and a half. Errol’s current Parenting Agreement gives him 50/50 custody of Angel. He normally gets her one week on, one week off and every other weekend. Angel’s mother has decided that she does not want to adhere to the current Parenting Agreement and has kept Angel from Errol during his normal weekend and going into the third day of his normal week visitation. She has justified this by saying that she is the better parent to protect Angel, and she is unsure about Liz’s working situation and exposure.
Liz is a pilot and has been laid off with all of the controversy around travel. Errol is an accountant and has his own business, so he has been working from home for years. Errol is furious that he is unable to see Angel. He clearly loves her, protects her and provides for her just as well as her mother. So how does Angel’s mother have the right to defy court orders and keep Angel away from her father? She really does not. She is still legally obligated to adhere to the court order despite the outbreak.
Angel’s mother has real fears that Liz’s profession could have exposed her to the virus. Liz is showing no signs of the virus and has not flown in over two weeks since the small company that she works for laid her off. The virus is thought to incubate somewhere around 14 days, so Liz should be clear even if she was exposed at some point. Errol has no idea how long it is going to be before he is able to see Angel and feels like this whole thing is negatively impacting he and Angel’s relationship and causing her more doubts and fears in a time when she needs stability the most. Errol has contacted his attorney and is looking for answers in the meantime of what he can do while he waits.
So what are some things that families in a similar situation can do?
- Be mindful of the laws in your state. As COVID-19 spreads and various governments react, laws are being updated to cope with the unprecedented level of legal issues arising. Most states have adopted laws stating that the Parenting Agreement must be adhered to baring any extreme circumstances. It would be a different story if either Errol or Liz were displaying clear symptoms of the virus or had tested positive. Attenuated fears that are unfounded do not carry the same weight as concrete evidence and a parent deliberately disobeying a court order risks being held in contempt.
- Try to work as a co-parenting unit to keep things as “normal” as possible for the child/children. Errol wants to keep the schedule as-is baring any changes in he or Liz’s health. He understands that this time is already stressful and confusing for a small child and does not want to confuse her any further. Her mother has to trust that Errol will continue to do what is right for Angel the same way that she would.
- Consider employing a mediator to help with some disagreements. This way you can preserve the court’s resources for the heavier weighted cases, save time, save money, and get a much faster solution. Many mediators are able to conduct your session virtually via video chat or phone.
- Be as flexible as possible. If the other parent truly cannot make their normal visitation time due to illness, economic or travel restrictions, try to work together to find solutions that still provide some level of parenting time without unnecessarily exposing the children. Maybe allow a video chat or virtual activity together. Also, one or both parents may have to temporarily adjust child support if they have lost their source of income.
- Hang in there. No one really knows the long-term impact of this virus. We see the short-term shutdowns and feel the impact of social distancing and vigilant sanitation. However, the messaging is not clear about what the long-term impact will be. Everyday you hear something different. Another guru has put out a study and two days later it is negated with new evidence to the contrary. This virus is sure to change some things, but it will eventually be over. Although this strand of Coronavirus is “novel” and has not been seen before, know that the past has shown us that we will eventually return to some sense of normal. Perhaps a new normal, but a normal indeed.
- Above everything, remain calm and show the children that both parents are behaving fairly and with maturity during these uncertain times. This is a time to come together, strengthen your marriage/relationships and family, and re-center yourselves around the things that matter most.
Angel’s mother has every right to be protective of her and want to keep her safe. As her father, Errol also has that same right. During a time like this Errol and his ex need to set aside their differences and trust that each other as parents will make decisions that are in Angel’s best interest because they both love her. Of course everyone has to use discretion and everyone’s situation will be different. The contagiousness of the virus is serious enough to warrant great concern amongst everyone. It is not however, a time to pick fights and be unfair to one or the other parent. The children are the ones who suffer most in those situations.
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