By: Laura Groulx, MSW, RSW
I don’t have answers, only thoughts. I’m not a lawyer, but I do speak with a lot of people about relationships and family dynamics. Recently, with everything happening in the world, I’ve been wondering how co-parents are handling shared custody and access regarding children that are currently in isolation; after all, some children have more than one family.
Co-parenting relationships, which are often ex-partners or divorced couples, vary immensely; some relationships are amicable, some are not. Some co-parents are flexible regarding access, not having a formal written agreement, and others rely on the structure the legal system has put in place for their families. To my knowledge, there are no changes to custody and access agreements regarding this novel situation; co-parents are having to handle this as suddenly as the virus came on.
If a formal custody and access agreement is in place, it seems that at this point it remains intact; parents are required to follow the parameters outlined in their agreement. I do wonder though, how this is being handled if the child and/or a family member falls ill. On the other hand, where there is no formal custody and access agreement in place, perhaps things become greyer.
During our current COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that communication over the issue of access is of the utmost importance, especially if a formal agreement is not in place. Amidst all the confusion, perhaps conversations surrounding what is currently working with the parenting arrangement (in the context of our current state), and what is not, could help funnel issues that need further addressing. After all, things have changed, we’re all figuring this out day by day.
There are many new issues to consider, including childcare (which parent has more availability now that public daycares and schools are shut down), finances (jobs have been affected), physical health (considering if anyone in either family is exhibiting symptoms), and overall well-being (how are the child and families coping with the disruption to routine). Without systemic clarity in place regarding how to deal with the change of today, it seems that talking it out with each other is necessary.
I know, communication between ex-partners isn’t always that simple - disagreements can emerge, especially when emotions are high. Right now, there are all kinds of emotions happening. To name a few, fear, anxiety, and anger seem to be ramping up, understandably so. I’m feeling it too. When we’re feeling this way, it takes extra effort to step back from our emotional impulses and reactions, and connect with the logic center of our brains, which helps guide our choices.
When making decisions that impact others, especially children, it is important to take the whole picture into consideration. As an example, making fear-based decisions (e.g. perhaps withholding a child from another parent), is not necessarily in the best interest of the child.
“Is this is the best interest of the child?”
In order to look at the bigger picture, parents may need to ask themselves some questions. For instance, is the decision that’s being made based on the parent’s personal wants, or is this based on what’s best for the child?
As another hypothetical, if you or other family members are exhibiting symptoms, maybe it is in the best interest of the child to remain with the other parent. This may require parents to flex their typical parenting structure, and sacrifice their own parenting time.
At the end of the day, it’s about prioritizing health. Physical health is obviously the focus right now, but mental health matters too. Maybe as things progress, we will receive more direction regarding how to handle co-parenting during this era. Until then, outside of formal custody and access agreements, it seems to be up to the co-parents themselves to figure out what works best.
Let’s put any differences aside, and work with each other rather than against each other. We are all in this together.
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