Parenting in the best of times can be challenging, but add a pandemic into the mix and those challenges multiply. Child custody and visitation matters are a central part of family law practice, but never in my legal career have I experienced so much contention over custody and visitation issues caused by differing parental views on how to manage children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
When we think about COVID and parenting, we need to keep a few things in mind:
- We as a nation and world have never dealt with a pandemic like COVID-19. We’ve all been told this is a novel virus, which is another way of saying that no one really understands this monster. Naturally there is mass confusion.
- Because this virus is novel, there is often conflicting information circulating. Parents are confused as to whom to believe and what course of action is best for their children. What do parents need to do to protect their family and others from viral exposure?
- We all love our children and are trying our very best to protect them, while at the same time meeting their needs for education, social interaction, physical and mental stimulation, and fun.
So with fear leading the way, coupled with the parental need to ensure child safety, there will be parenting conflicts between those with differing views on how to address the virus, balanced against their child’s legitimate needs to engage with the world and maintain some level of normalcy.
ANDREA’S RULES FOR PARENTING DURING COVID
- Do not involve your child in parental discussions about your parenting dispute. There is enough angst and anger over this pandemic and fear is affecting everyone. The last thing a child needs is to be embroiled in the middle of a parental dispute that squarely involves the child and safety concerns.
- Communicate concerns with the other parent respectfully and honestly. No matter how much they disagree about how to manage custody, both parents want what is best for the child and each parent’s opinions and concerns are worthy of being heard. Because of the uncertainty of the virus, no one knows the perfect course of action. In all cases, both parents must actively listen to one another and determine their areas of agreement and disagreement about COVID parenting rules.
- When you are unable to reach agreement on parenting rules, use a tie-breaker. Be creative by using a third party to help reach an agreement in areas of dispute. I first send clients to the guidelines established by our Governor. Whether you agree or disagree with his approach, those are the rules we are required to respect. Parents can often extrapolate from those mandates and agree upon protocols that comport with existing guidelines. Visit www.virginia.gov/coronavirus for the most up-to-date guidelines from the Commonwealth.
- Seek the assistance a licensed family therapist. I have seen innumerable creative and ingenious ideas come out of these meetings. The therapists I regularly refer clients to have successfully created mutually acceptable COVID parenting plans for every family I have sent to them for help.
- If all other attempts at reaching agreement fail, seek legal advice.
It is important to have in place a consistent parenting plan that allows your child to function without being in the center of parental conflict. If your child is living by different rules in each household, anxiety, confusion and stress usually result. Protecting your child from psychological and relational injury is an important part of protecting your child from the pandemic.