It is an unfortunate reality we live in right now with a Pandemic making its way across the country and around the world. As reports come in from places like Italy and Spain, as well as from the States of New York, California, and Washington, which are the hardest hit at this point, there are several things that we all need to keep in mind.
There have been reports that classified COVID-19 as a low-risk virus. The vast majority of the people who are infected will recover with little or no professional medical intervention. That does not mean that there is no risk. For older individuals and those who have an autoimmune deficiency such as Rheumatoid Arthritis or Multiple Sclerosis are at a much higher risk of severe illness and even death. The same goes for people who have respiratory issues such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Also, a history of smoking or vaping puts a person at higher risk.
The two main reasons why social distancing or even sheltering in place is so necessary is 1) to not overwhelm the hospitals and the medical workers, and 2) so someone who has mild symptoms does not unintentionally infect someone who has a higher risk factor. Hospitals are planning to be inundated with virus cases. It is not as if the hospitals were empty before this. This Pandemic hit at the tail end of the seasonal flu season, which has also been taking its toll. Influenza, which is from a completely different family of virus is something that is a known entity and predictable. COVID-19, which is a coronavirus in the same classification as SARS, is a new strain that is neither known nor predictable.
It is this unpredictability that is causing most of the fear and anxiety.
Since most of the country is essentially locked down, there have been some unintended consequences. One of these consequences is that divorced couples who share custody of children, and even non-custodial parents who have visitation, or parenting time rights, are not able to keep to the schedule. Parents are missing out on parenting time and are getting rather angry and upset about it.
Issues that divorced parents must take into account include:
- If a parent, either themselves, or their ex, or another family member living with either parent or their children are in a high-risk category
- If a parent works in an essential service that regularly brings them in contact with people and even those who are sick, such as hospital workers or police officers
- Parents have different feelings or opinions about the social distancing order, as one parent takes it very seriously and the other is not taking it seriously and even openly disregards the directives by being out in public regularly
- Since children are doing their schoolwork from home, if they are not in their primary residence, they may not have access to the online school work or may not have access to a computer even to attempt to log in
Parents who have been missing out on parenting time have are understandably upset with the possibility of not being able to see their children for an extended period.
Even though the courts are closed, it is essential to remember the guideline that courts use for determining how they rule in issues related to the children. They always consider what is best for the child and if the ruling puts an undue hardship on the custodial parent.
As a parent, it is essential to consider several things, even if it means that in-person parenting time is not possible. These things include:
- Maintaining the health of the children. First and foremost, this is the priority
- Taking the health issues and concerns of each parent into account, especially when a parent, a child, or another relative that may be living in the house, such as a grandparent, has a high-risk factor. For grandparents without any other issues, age by itself is a risk factor
- Essential Services jobs that are high-risk, such as hospital workers. Unfortunately, a person may miss out on parenting time due to their chosen profession, but in a lot of cases, exposure to the virus is a genuine concern
- Remote learning access is a priority. Children might be at home, but they are not on vacation. They need to continue their studies
The best way to make up for lost parenting time is for parents to work out an ad hoc parenting coordination plan. Several things can be done utilizing technology, imagination, and balancing the scales over time.
Mostly every company and school has been utilizing webcams through applications like Skype, Facetime, Whatsapp, or Zoom. Parents can have virtual time with their children. Time would be set aside, so the custodial parent would not interfere or even be privy to the conversation. Parents and children can spend time together, discuss their lives, and also help with homework and other responsibilities. Virtual time might not be as personal as being in the same room together, but with the technology, quality time can be had virtually.
There are circumstances where parents may have limited outdoor time with children. If there is no concern by either parent about issues of exposure, they can take advantage of the beautiful weather and go for a bike ride or walk around the neighborhood. As long as you make sure you do not interact with others, and you forego going out for lunch or dessert, spending time outdoors might be possible.
Parents can also agree that lost time can be banked for more time later. Lost time can be made up for over the summer, which is just a few months away. With children out of school, their schedules will be more flexible, and adding days of parenting time can be worked out.
The most important thing is that parents need to be patient with each other and take each other’s concerns seriously. The custodial parent needs to understand the emotional difficulty their ex-spouse is going through by being separated from their children for an extended period. A divorce can be extremely contentious, and former spouses may not get along with each other. However, when it comes to the children, they must put aside their personal issues and realize that it is not only the spouse that is suffering, but the children are also separated from a parent for an extended period.
We are going through a difficult time that requires extraordinary measures. Sometimes that means swallowing your pride or even putting aside the strict letter of the law as dictated by the divorce decree or parenting plan. Sometimes a Plan B is required, even if it is not officially written out on paper.
As adults, we are having a hard time with lost work time, lost wages, and concerns of life and even death. Children have their concerns. They are missing their friends and missing school and extracurricular activities, along with the stress of not seeing a parent.
Let’s all work together to get through this challenging time and work out a plan to make up for lost parenting time when things get back to normal.