Co-parenting can be challenging even in the best of circumstances. Throw in a global pandemic and you get complete disruption in normalcy and routines that parents crave. With increased security measures put in place to ensure public safety, adjustments between households with shared custody and access arrangements have to be made.During this challenging time, it is important to remember that a child’s well-being is the most important consideration. With tighter restrictions and heightened safety measures, parents are facing new challenges with their co-parenting.
“What is co-parenting?” one may ask. At its most basic, co-parenting is the term used to define parents who are separated or divorced, who have children together and who are raising their children in separate places but are keeping the children’s interests aligned and their well-being at the forefront of every decision.
As a family law lawyer, I have seen a myriad of parents go through the difficulties faced with co-parenting. From not respecting access times to unscheduled parties to introducing a new partner to the child, co-parenting is not easy. Since March, when the pandemic systematically put the world on lockdown, the rate of families facing co-parenting difficulties spiked as well.
That’s partly due to the fact that the ease of access between households and parents stopped. As a result, one parent was usually given the “shaft,” while the other parent doubled their time with their children. Consequently, COVID-19 created a dichotomous environment where parents either felt helpless, trapped, forgotten and anxious or overwhelmed, exhausted and stressed.
More than ever, finding balance and a way to communicate effectively with the co-parent is essential to a child’s well-being. It is worth the effort to try to keep the family dynamics in place while also serving the needs of the children.
Here are some dos and don’ts for successful co-parenting for clients:
Develop and maintain healthy communication with the co-parent. While communication may be one of the hardest things to do, it is the best and most rewarding thing a parent can do for themselves, the co-parent and their child. In a time of so much uncertainty, the parent should make it a point to discuss issues openly and make communicating a top priority.
Be consistent between households. Health and safety measures are in place for a reason and should be followed as much as possible. Obviously, with children living in more than one environment during a pandemic, the child’s safety and the safety of everyone around is the most important consideration. Ensure that rules stay the same in both households so that when the children are going from one place to another, their risk is minimal. This consistency also helps to alleviate any anxieties that the other co-parent might be having.
Be flexible. I cannot emphasize this one enough! With restrictions in place, co-parenting schedules have to be able to change and adapt with minimal conflict. This ensures smooth transitions but also ensures that the children do not feel the stress surrounding parents having to adapt. This means that both parents need to be aware that the norm may be impractical at this time and finding temporary alternatives is important.
For example, if one parent always has weekends with the children, but that parent happens to be a front-line worker, it may not be the safest to have the children with that parent given the circumstances, which means that the parent may have to forgo in-person visits until it is deemed safe again. While this may seem unjust, it is important to remember that enforcing parenting rights during this time is not always in the child’s best interest.
For the other parent: as they know that the co-parent is unable to see the children as often during this time, once it becomes safe again, they are advised to be more flexible and allow the co-parent to have more time with the children since they had to sacrifice their time before.
Be creative. No doubt this pandemic has made us rethink our day-to-day activities. Getting creative with how to occupy your child’s time helps lessen the burden of having to do the exact same thing every day. Getting creative with access and visits also helps keeps things light-hearted and fun for the children, distracting them enough to get their mind off of not being able to go about their normal routines.
Use this pandemic to sabotage your child’s relationship with their other parent. Not only is it not fair to your child, often the child will end up resenting you for it rather than the other parent. It is critically important for a child to have healthy relationships with both of their parents.
Make the child choose sides or burden them with trash talk about the other parent. They love both their parents and they see themselves as a combination of you both. Children need to be allowed to be kids and not deal with grown-up problems.
Use the fact that during this COVID-19 time, one parent may be more isolated. Nor is this the right time to introduce children to a new partner or love interest. Children are sensitive, and with an enforced lockdown and quarantine, pushing a new relationship on them is a bad idea. Not only will the children feel undue pressure, but the co-parent will resent the fact that they cannot be there for their child during this uncertain time.
Enforce judgments and already existing orders. While a client may feel entitled to their time with their child, this is not the time for them to be commencing any type of litigation to enforce an order already in place. While we encourage parents to try and maintain as much structure and normalcy, it may not be possible to do so due to safety reasons. That is why we encourage co-parents to openly communicate in order to avoid such drastic measures being taken.
By following these simple tips, a client will find that their co-parenting skills will improve significantly. Not only will they see a change in attitude from themselves and the co-parent, but they will ultimately see the greatest reward: their child’s happiness.
Nandishi Bekah is the principal lawyer at the Toronto-based law firm Bekah Law. Bekah specializes in family law and discusses family law topics across Canadian media. She is currently penning her first book.
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