This is a really testing time for all of us. But if you are navigating separated parenting as well as dealing with COVID-19, then the anxiety levels can start to feel overwhelming. But don't worry, we are here to help, and have put together some FAQ's and advice to support you.
The government guidelines say that children under 18 are permitted to move between their parent's homes. For many children, this will be a welcome change of scene…so it's important to keep contact with both parents where safe to do so.
However, this does not mean children must rotate between homes, and as parents, we must consider the health of our children (unwell children stay put) and the risks to any vulnerable people in each other's household.
The best way to deal with these difficult times is to keep communicating. Specifically discuss with your concerns or worries with your co-parent. Ask what they think would be a good, practical solution. Even if you think it is safe for contact to take place, it might be entirely reasonable for the other parent to be genuinely worried about this.
These are unprecedented times. There are no right or wrong answers – it depends on your circumstances.
It's probably best to minimise stress and stick to your parenting plan arrangements. Remember, you can only control what goes on in your home. You can't dictate or police what happens when the children spend time with their other parent. So just focus on what you can do in your home. You and your ex should agree to abide by the government 'Stay at home advice' however, as a minimum.
If you can agree on a change that suits your children and works for the two of you, then you can use this time as an opportunity to be creative with how the children spend their time with each of you. This might mean changing the amount of time you each spend with the children and doing different home-based activities such as becoming more involved in homeschooling.
You don't have to stick to the order (temporarily) if you both agree not to. If as parents, you agree varying the Child Arrangement Order is temporarily best for your children and your circumstances then the guidelines state you're free to do so. It's best if you record such an agreement in a note, email or text message sent to each other.
If you don't agree about varying the Child Arrangement Order, but one parent you are sufficiently concerned that complying with it would be against current government advice, then you can exercise your parental responsibility and vary the arrangements to one you feel is safe. Sadly, this could be open to abuse by one parent or the other, so it's essential to understand that your or your ex's actions may be reviewed in court at a later date. The Family Court, is likely to evaluate if each parent acted reasonably and sensibly in light of the official advice and the Stay at Home Rules, together with any specific evidence relating to the child or family.
Even if you can't physically see your children, there are plenty of ways to keep in touch through Facetime, Zoom and WhatsApp. You could schedule learning time with your children and help with homeschooling. There are fantastic free resources out there for lesson-plans and teaching material. For younger children, you can read stories or play games. There are some great tips for chatting with younger children here.
It's important to follow the government advice and self-isolate if you or any member of your household shows symptoms of COVID-19. That may mean having to be separated from your children for 14 days. If you are concerned your co-parent may use self-isolation to withhold contact or the safe return of your children after a visit, then try and discuss your concerns openly. If you make a plan now before it happens, it is much easier to deal with than having to act in the moment.
If you're at the start of your separation and still live under the same roof, its particularly tough living in such close proximity to each other. Try and remember this is temporary and manage your frustrations. Here there are some things that may help.
Kids thrive on routine and structure is especially important now. That means time to play, to socialise, exercise and home school virtually. Agree on a routine with your children and co-parent and who will supervise which activities. You can divide your parenting time by times of day or by activity – it's your call.
Remember that only one of you can be in charge at any given time. Learn to divide whose parenting time it is and stay out of the way or don't get involved when it's not your turn. This is good training for when you are separated parents physically as well as emotionally.
You may have different rules in different houses once you separate physically, but for now, you need one set and you need to agree the rules together. Bedtimes, wake times, screen times, routines, etc agree on them all, get the kids to buy in and stick them on the wall where you can remind yourselves of them.
Managing your own frustrations at this time is key. Stay connected to friends and family and keep talking. Apps that encourage meditation are great and can help reduce frustration and anxiety. Ensuring you take physical exercise with the government guidelines and getting outside to feel the sun on your face can have incredible restorative powers.
This week I recorded a new episode of The Divorce Podcast with co-parenting expert, Marcie Shaoul. Listen to the episode here.