Separation and divorce carries many challenges that parents need to face individually and jointly. They need to establish two functioning households, they need to finance these households, they need to agree on schedules for being with their children—all undertaken when tensions and anxieties are at heightened levels. Despite the hurdles already surmounted by couples living apart and parenting their children, nothing compares to the pandemic currently upending the very norms and rules to which we are accustomed. Now is the time that we need to carve out a different space that allows children and families to be safe and well in uncertain and hazardous times.
We, at the Centre for Mediation and Dispute Resolution, offer the following suggestions. (Please recognize that there is nothing sacred about our thoughts, you should improvise, adapt, adjust, do your own “thing,” all directed at the well-being of your family.)
It is likely that your regular parenting schedule is no longer workable. Your children may be home 24/7. Each parent’s time with the children may be upended. You may have to work from home; you may be out of work; you may no longer have other caretakers, from schools to babysitters or relatives available to help. As parents you need to discuss, in precise detail, coverage for the children—what will you do and where will you do it? How available are you and when? Are there limits to your ability to travel? Can you, as parents, handle parental interaction in one home if coverage is no longer available or safe in each parent’s separate home?
You need to engage in discussions, you need to plan, you need to think out of the box, and you need to be flexible. Indeed, agreements reached today may be no longer feasible tomorrow; your work situation may change; limitations on travel may be imposed. There is really no sure way to predict the next day. One parent may assume more coverage because he or she is more available; counting minutes lost will not work when predictability is lost.
In short, for the sake of your children, you need to be available for each other. You need to work with the present situation, focusing on the here and now and not on what was or what you think should be or even what your divorce agreement stated.
Here is where the situation can get really difficult. The stock market’s volatility is constant and of course unpredictable. Each piece of bad news or fear of bad news sends the market reeling. Job situations are unstable. Businesses are struggling to keep afloat, impacting on employers and employees on a daily basis. What works for one day does not work for the next. As a result of the catastrophic nature of the present situation, parents need to cooperate in figuring out how to cope –personally, socially, and financially.
Maybe support payments need to be adjusted in the short term; maybe budgets need to be pared. Moneys saved from extracurricular activities that are no longer available, trips that must be postponed, and items that were scheduled to be purchased, to name just a sample, can be channeled into funding the basics—food, housing and the like.
Liquid holdings may need to be tapped to cover expenses and credit may need to be accessed for essentials. Hopefully you can avoid cashing in stocks, especially retirement funds at this time. The key takeaway is that there is no way to be precise about how to handle the current financial downturn. Hopefully this catastrophic situation will end and we will recoup losses and move forward.
In the interim you need to be creative in making the financial adjustments that will safeguard your children’s and your welfare.
Health and Well-Being:
Most important of all is the health of family members. You must follow the recommendations for staying healthy—even the very difficult ones of social distancing, disinfecting surfaces, hand washing and all the other CDC guidelines. These recommendations will obviously become more difficult over time; we are not used to being isolated; we are not used to being without companionship. You need to tell each other if you have been exposed to the virus, if a child has been exposed, or if you are sick. This is no time to be secretive.
Psychological messaging is also of utmost importance. Children need to understand that there new rules in place, but they also need to be reassured that the world is not ending, that they will be okay. Regardless of how frightening and disruptive new and different forms of discipline and control may be, children need to know and believe that they have parents who are there to help and care for them.
If you ever needed to be a couple, for the sake of your children now is the time. For them you are a team!